The Bachelor’s Own Book; Or, The Progress Of Mr. Lambkin, In The Pursuit Of Pleasure And Amusement — text and illustrations by George Cruikshank (1844)
The Bachelor's Own Book, issued by Bogue on 1 August 1844, tells in twenty-four plain or colored etchings the progress of Mr. Lambkin in his oursuit of amusement, health, and happiness. The Hogarthian progress lies a long way behind this narrative, which in its story line bears a nearer affinity to Thackeray's tales about foolish, conceited social-climbers. [Patten, p. 203]
According to Robert L. Patten, Cruikshank based his satire of the bourgeois Mr. Lambkin on the caricature albums of the Genevese writer-artist Rodolphe Töpffer (1799-1846). Interested in physiognomy and caricature, in 1837 Töpffer designed a series of captioned cartoon panels In 1837 entitled Histoire de M. Vieux Bois (published in America five years later as The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck). Another artist — possibly caricaturist Henry Monnier, W. M. Thackeray, or W. H. Merle — brought Töpffer's comic strips to Cruikshank's attention.
Cruikshank's version of a Thackeray story told by means of Töpfferian plates fails on a number of counts. The prosy explanatory captions do not articulate a medley of ironic tones, while the plates — though competent and even attractive in their domesticated caricature — lack Töpffer's witty and inventive spareness that so engages the observer's imagination. The play of voices, the bravura elisions, the dash and verve of Lord Bateman are here replaced by something much flatter, more illusionbistic, more didactic. Lambkin is saved from utter ruin by Cupid. . . . . Lambkin remains a transitional work uncomfortably situated between a variety of past traditions, British and Continental, and the increasingly divergent future courses taken by political and social satires, cartoons, progresses, and illustrations. Cruikshank thought of etching a sequel about a young lady, much as Edward Caswall's Sketches of Young Ladies had spawned Dickens's Young Gentlemen and Young Couples a decade previously, but the public's reception of Lambkin was too tepid to encourage artuist or publisher to venture again in that area. [Patten, pp. 203-04]
Töpffer and Cruikshank's aspiration to be his own author-illustrator
Although Cruikshank, combining the functions of author and illustrator, abandoned the extensive captions of Mr. Lambkin in the much larger prints for the social satire of The Bottle (1847) and its dreary sequel The Drunkard's Children (1848), here he relies heavily on the text to tell the slight but amusing story of the egotistical little Lambkin. David Kunzle disparages the 24-frame series as "graphically not very striking" (169) but nevertheless regards as important as the artist's "first experiment in independent narrative" or "independent pictorial narrative" (169), that is, the Victorian forerunner of the picture-book, comic strip, and graphic novel which would enable Cruikshank to avoid having to collaborate with writers such as Charles Dickens who regarded Cruikshank's art as inferior to their own. "Cruikshank, in his ambition to become artist and author, was working in a genre clearly defined by the example of Hogarth, but lacking in a continuous tradition" (170). In the comedic repetitions of the moral and physical slide of his protagonist, abruptly reversed towards the end of the sequence of twenty-four steel-engravings, one is reminded of Cruikshank's illustrations for Dickens's Oliver Twist, whose subtitle "The Parish Boy's Progress" makes plain the Hogarthian connection. The format of Mr. Lambkin is only loosely derived from the Swiss original in that Töpffer's drawing is fluid and sketchy, and generally lacks the kind of detail that the English graphic humourist habitually embedded in his work.
The twenty-four plates are arranged in the traditional album format, two almost square scenes to a page, so that one double-scene plate of Lambkin corresponds in size and shape to one oblong of a Töpffer album, with its two-to-four scenes also printed on the facing pages only. There is no general and little particular resemblance between Lambkin and the Töpffer story best known in England, the Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck, for which Cruikshank may have been asked by [his publisher, David] Bogue to design a frontispiece. Mr. Lambkin bears a closer resemblance to Monsieur Jabot, Topffer's first publication. Cruikshank's hero Lambkin is, like Jabot, squat, barrel-chested, and big nosed, a physical type expressive of a clumsy social vanity. Both represent the same social type placed in the same basic story-line: the social climber whose aspirations are frustrated in various ways until the very end, when he achieves a happy marriage. . . . . Jabot's social foray is merely the pretext for some extraordinary flights of fantasy. Lambkin moves entirely within the tradition, enaging in those raffish activities and visiting those picturesque locales in which he had been preceded by [Pierce Egan's] Tom and Jerry. Courtship, gastronomic excesses, gambling, indebtedness, the fight with the police, sickness and cures — all these motifs derive from a picturesque tradition of the picture story which gopes back beyond Hogarth and Dutch and Italian tales of harlots, rakes, and Prodigal Sons. [Kunzle, pp. 179-180]
Moreover, although both Jabot and Lambkin are manifestly poseurs, whereas Cruikshank's hero merely strikes poses, Topffer's acts the role he has assumed. "By eliminating most of the background detail, Töpffer is able to isolate attitudes, arrange them in telling sequences, and permit the reader, as it were, actually to follow the hero around the drawing room. Cruikshank clings to the significant background accessory of the Hogarth tradition, particularly in the symbolic pictures on the walls" (Kunzle, pp. 180-181). The artist, for example, is able to exercise editorial license through the embedded portraits of the Lady's parents in Mr. Lambkin writes a letter of humiliation and the background oil painting of the royal wedding in And now let Mr. Lambkin speak for himself.
- 1. Illuminated title-page: Mr. Lambkin (Gent.) in the Pursuit of Pleasure and Amusement
- 2. Mr. Lambkin having come into his property
- 3. Mr. Lambkin sallies forth in all the pride of power
- 4. Mr. Lambkin with a snug Bachelors party
- 5. Mr. Lambkin suddenly feels rather poorly
- 6. Mr. Lambkin, overwhelmed with shame and vexation, resorts to Kensington Gardens
- 7. After meditating desperate deeds of Duelling, Prussic Acid, Pistols, and Plunges in the River
- 8. Mr. Lambkin, having cut those Bachelor Parties, determines to seek the refined pleasures of Ladies' society.
- 9. Mr. Lambkin, at an evening party, being full of Life and Spirits
- 10. Mr. Lambkin of course visits all the Theatres and all the Saloons
- 11. Mr. Lambkin goes to a Masquerade as Don Giovanni
- 12. Mr. Lambkin makes some most delightful acquaintance
- 13. Mr. Lambkin in a moment of delightful delirium
- 14. Mr. Lambkin and his friends, after supper at "the rooms"
- 15. Mr. Lambkin and his friends cut a pretty figure in the morning before the Magistrate
- 16. Mr. Lambkin, finding that he has been variously and thoroughly befooled
- 17. Mr. Lambkin's habits grow worse and worse!
- 18. Mr. Lambkin finds that he has been going rather too fast in the Pursuit of Pleasure
- 19. Mr. Lambkin has to be nursed, and to go through a regular course of medicine
- 20. Mr. Lambkin being tired of the old-fashioned regular practice
- 21. Mr. Lambkin buys a regular hard-trotter
- 22. Mr. Lambkin's confidence in the curative powers of Hydropathy
- 23. Mr. Lambkin being quite recovered with the aid of new milk
- 24. Mr. Lambkin writes a letter of humiliation
- 25. And now let Mr. Lambkin speak for himself
- 26. The Progress of Mr Lambkin (Gent) illustrated cover
Cruikshank, George. The Bachelor’s Own Book; Or, The Progress Of Mr. Lambkin, In The Pursuit Of Pleasure And Amusement. Glasgow: David Bryce, 1844, rpt. 1880.
Kunzle, David. "Mr. Lambkin: Cruikshank's Strike for Independence." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U. P., 1974. Pp. 169-188.
Patten, Robert L. George Cruikshank's Life, Times, and Art: Volume 2: 1835-1878. Cambridge: Lutterworth, 1996.
Vogler, Richard A. Graphic Works of George Cruikshank. Dover Pictorial Archive Series. New York: Dover, 1979.
Last modified 15 May 2018