The husband, in a State of Furious Drunkenness, Kills His Wife with the Instrument of All Their Misery — George Cruikshank. 1847. Seventh 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 notes that a “doctor takes the pulse of the murdered wife, now stretched out on the floor and surrounded by neighbors. One policeman interrogates the daughter, who points to the broken while another officer seizes the hopelessly disturbed father” (p. 160). Vogler sees little to comment upon since the meaning of the visual text is clear enough: the inevitable trajectory of alcoholism is addiction, unemployment, starvation, desperation, violence, and murder. Cruikshank juxtaposes a crowd, largely of women, to the left with the uniformed police interrogating the daughter and restraining the terrified madman (right). The bottle, unrecognizable at first, lies shattered at the drunkard's feet; significantly, the distraught adolescent daughter points to its fragments rather than her father as the cause of the crime.

W. H. Chesson, writing in 1908, commented upon the “horrid strength” with which the “maniac” clutches the mantelpiece . . . while all the neighbours stare at something whose face we cannot see! The artist has shouted till he was hoarse, but his story is in our marrows” (pp. 56-57). Although Chesson finds much to admire in the detailings of the initial illustration, he disparages most of the rest of series because he believes that Cruikshank, who protests too much about the evils of alcohol, does not take into account the influence of unemployment, lack of education, inadequate health care, and depression. With neither comedy nor melodrama, Cruikshank tells the tale of a respectable artisan whose enjoyment of gin leads swiftly to wife-murder and insanity. The series is not without pathos, since Cruikshank foils the grim addiction of the father with the finer feelings of his wife and children.

In his 1980 review of Vogler's Graphic Works of George Cruikshank, V. S. Pritchett, eho finds The Bottle "an inescapable social document" (p. 8), believes Cruikshank was the Hogarth of his time; not merely a narrow propagandist using art as his pulpit or soap-box, but a legitimate artist and social commentator in 1847 as Hogarth had been a century earlier, and as Gustave Doré would become in his depiction of the horrors of London's slums in Blanchard Jerrold's London, A Pilgrimage in 1872.

At the boy's feet once again is Cruikshank's assertion that he is the teller of the grim, wordless tale: "Designed & Etched by George Cruikshank." Once again we encounter a study in black-and-white, the whiteness of the coal fire, plaster above the barren mantel, and the bare floorboards mirrored in the dresses of the lamenting women contrasting the darkness of the open doorway, the police uniforms, the kneeling woman (left, who prevents us from seeing the corpse, for which we as viewers must create appropriate images) and the ragged child (right), who chews his nails in sheer anxiety as he watches the drama starring his surviving parent unfold in the midst of what was once a thriving, congenial home. The scene juxtaposes the curiosity of the neighbours, the stunned responses of the children, the anguished stare of the demented father, and the cool professionalism of the police and the attending physician, who, one suspects, are no strangers to the deadly repercussions of "The Bottle." The cupboard, once stocked with dinnerware, is open once again, perhaps portending the life-long incarceration of the madman. In his biography of Cruikshank, Blanchard Jerrold particularly enjoyed this climax of the story in the seventh plate and the dénouement in the last, whose disposition of the motherless children sets up the 1848 sequel which will follow their fortunes on the streets, among the criminal classes. Like Vogler a century after him, Jerrold accepts Cruikshank's warning about the perils of gin. What the opioid crisis of today is to respectable middle-class North American society alcoholism was to mid-Victorian England: a scourge and a curse. And the chief culprit (if one disregards the culpability of the purveyors and manufacturers of the poison) was gin, a cheap and potent alcohol that was the equivalent of present-day Fentanyl. Both gin and the synthetic opium of our time destroys the addict and those about him:

"Fearful quarrels and brutal violence," says the artist-preacher, "are the natural consequences of the frequent use of the bottle." Murder is the next scene. The wife lies dead, with the doctor leaning over her, and all the horrible commères who gather round death in the dark, byways of great cities, are staring and talking. The murderer is in the clutches of the police; the boy looks on aghast, holding his chin, and trembling in his rags; the bottle, which has done the deed, is shivered upon the floor and the fragments lie near a broken pipe, a ragged slipper and a battered hat. The final scene is a mad-house. "The bottle has done its work; it has destroyed the infant and the mother, the boy and the girl left destitute and thrown on the streets, and has left the father a hopeless maniac." The figure of the madman before the caged fire is a very powerful bit of realism. [Jerrold, p. 251]

A Pair of Contemporary Responses to the Seventh Plate

Charles Mackay (1814-89), a poet, journalist, contributor to Illustrated London News who later became its its editor, composed a jolly "Temperance song" entitled "The Gin-Fiend" in four stanzas to underscore the moral of both The Bottle and The Drunkard's Children. The third stanza is Mackay's response to the seventh scene in Cruikshank's sequence —

"There watch'd another by the hearth,
With sullen face and thin;
She utter'd words of scorn and hate,
To one that stagger'd in.
Long had she watch'd; and when he came,
His thoughts were bent on blood; —
He could not brook her taunting look,
And he slew her where she stood.
"And it's hip!" said the Gin-Fiend, "hip, hurra!
"My right good friend is he;
"He hath slain his wife, he hath given his life,
"And all for the love of me!"
[Cited by Jerrold, p. 251.]

Mackay was not the only noteworthy writer moved by the seventh scene. In a letter of 2 September 1847 to John Forster, his business manager and close personal friend, Charles Dickens described his contradictory responses to Cruikshank's folio, focussing on this seventh scene:

At Canterbury yesterday, I bought George Cruikshank’s 'Bottle.' I think it very powerful indeed: the two last plates most admirable, except that the boy and girl in the very last are too young, and the girl more like a circus-phenomenon than that no-phenomenon she is intended to represent. I question, however, whether anybody else living could have done it so well. There is a woman in the last plate but one, garrulous about the murder, with a child in her arms, that is as good as Hogarth. Also the man who is stooping down, looking at the body. The philosophy of the thing, as a great lesson, I think all wrong; because, to be striking, and original too, the drinking should have begun in sorrow, or poverty, or ignorance — the three things in which, in its awful aspect, it does begin. The design would thus have been a double-handed sword — but too 'radical' for good old George, I suppose. [cited by Jerrold, p. 252]

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.

Feaver, William. ​"'At it Again': Aspects of Cruikshank's Later Work." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Ed. Robert L. Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rev., 1992. Pp. 249-58.

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, 1883. Vol. 2, Pp. 89-100.

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.

Mackay, Charles. "The Gin-Fiend." The Collected Songs of Charles Mackay. Illustrated by John Gilbert. London: Routledge, 1859. Pp. 62-63.

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.

Pritchett, V. S. "A Fine Rough English Diamond: A Review of Graphic Works of George Cruikshank, selected and with an introduction and notes by Richard A. Vogler. Dover Publications, 168 pp., 279 illustrations, $7.95 (paper)." The New York Review of Books 12 June 1980. Pp. 5-8.

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

Last modified 13 August 2017