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By-and-by it became so thick we could not see across the

source:Supplements and supplements networkedit:twotime:2023-11-30 00:26:52

It would not, perhaps, be out of place to glance through the whole of the "Jack Sheppard" plates, which are among the most finished and the most successful of Mr. Cruikshank's performances, and say a word or two concerning them. Let us begin with finding fault with No. 1, "Mr. Wood offers to adopt little Jack Sheppard." A poor print, on a poor subject; the figure of the woman not as carefully designed as it might be, and the expression of the eyes (not an uncommon fault with our artist) much caricatured. The print is cut up, to use the artist's phrase, by the number of accessories which the engraver has thought proper, after the author's elaborate description, elaborately to reproduce. The plate of "Wild discovering Darrell in the loft" is admirable--ghastly, terrible, and the treatment of it extraordinarily skilful, minute, and bold. The intricacies of the tile-work, and the mysterious twinkling of light among the beams, are excellently felt and rendered; and one sees here, as in the two next plates of the storm and murder, what a fine eye the artist has, what a skilful hand, and what a sympathy for the wild and dreadful. As a mere imitation of nature, the clouds and the bridge in the murder picture may be examined by painters who make far higher pretensions than Mr. Cruikshank. In point of workmanship they are equally good, the manner quite unaffected, the effect produced without any violent contrast, the whole scene evidently well and philosophically arranged in the artist's brain, before he began to put it upon copper.

By-and-by it became so thick we could not see across the

The famous drawing of "Jack carving the name on the beam," which has been transferred to half the play-bills in town, is overloaded with accessories, as the first plate; but they are much better arranged than in the last-named engraving, and do not injure the effect of the principal figure. Remark, too, the conscientiousness of the artist, and that shrewd pervading idea of FORM which is one of his principal characteristics. Jack is surrounded by all sorts of implements of his profession; he stands on a regular carpenter's table: away in the shadow under it lie shavings and a couple of carpenter's hampers. The glue-pot, the mallet, the chisel-handle, the planes, the saws, the hone with its cover, and the other paraphernalia are all represented with extraordinary accuracy and forethought. The man's mind has retained the exact DRAWING of all these minute objects (unconsciously perhaps to himself), but we can see with what keen eyes he must go through the world, and what a fund of facts (as such a knowledge of the shape of objects is in his profession) this keen student of nature has stored away in his brain. In the next plate, where Jack is escaping from his mistress, the figure of that lady, one of the deepest of the [Greek text omitted], strikes us as disagreeable and unrefined; that of Winifred is, on the contrary, very pretty and graceful; and Jack's puzzled, slinking look must not be forgotten. All the accessories are good, and the apartment has a snug, cosy air; which is not remarkable, except that it shows how faithfully the designer has performed his work, and how curiously he has entered into all the particulars of the subject.

By-and-by it became so thick we could not see across the

Master Thames Darrell, the handsome young man of the book, is, in Mr. Cruikshank's portraits of him, no favorite of ours. The lad seems to wish to make up for the natural insignificance of his face by frowning on all occasions most portentously. This figure, borrowed from the compositor's desk, will give a notion of what we mean. Wild's face is too violent for the great man of history (if we may call Fielding history), but this is in consonance with the ranting, frowning, braggadocio character that Mr. Ainsworth has given him.

By-and-by it became so thick we could not see across the

The "Interior of Willesden Church" is excellent as a composition, and a piece of artistical workmanship; the groups are well arranged; and the figure of Mrs. Sheppard looking round alarmed, as her son is robbing the dandy Kneebone, is charming, simple, and unaffected. Not so "Mrs. Sheppard ill in bed," whose face is screwed up to an expression vastly too tragic. The little glimpse of the church seen through the open door of the room is very beautiful and poetical: it is in such small hints that an artist especially excels; they are the morals which he loves to append to his stories, and are always appropriate and welcome. The boozing ken is not to our liking; Mrs. Sheppard is there with her horrified eyebrows again. Why this exaggeration--is it necessary for the public? We think not, or if they require such excitement, let our artist, like a true painter as he is, teach them better things.


* A gentleman (whose wit is so celebrated that one should be very cautious in repeating his stories) gave the writer a good illustration of the philosophy of exaggeration. Mr. ---- was once behind the scenes at the Opera when the scene-shifters were preparing for the ballet. Flora was to sleep under a bush, whereon were growing a number of roses, and amidst which was fluttering a gay covey of butterflies. In size the roses exceeded the most expansive sunflowers, and the butterflies were as large as cocked hats;--the scene-shifter explained to Mr. ----, who asked the reason why everything was so magnified, that the galleries could never see the objects unless they were enormously exaggerated. How many of our writers and designers work for the galleries?

The "Escape from Willesden Cage" is excellent; the "Burglary in Wood's house" has not less merit; "Mrs. Sheppard in Bedlam," a ghastly picture indeed, is finely conceived, but not, as we fancy, so carefully executed; it would be better for a little more careful drawing in the female figure.

"Jack sitting for his picture" is a very pleasing group, and savors of the manner of Hogarth, who is introduced in the company. The "Murder of Trenchard" must be noticed too as remarkable for the effect and terrible vigor which the artist has given to the scene. The "Willesden Churchyard" has great merit too, but the gems of the book are the little vignettes illustrating the escape from Newgate. Here, too, much anatomical care of drawing is not required; the figures are so small that the outline and attitude need only to be indicated, and the designer has produced a series of figures quite remarkable for reality and poetry too. There are no less than ten of Jack's feats so described by Mr. Cruikshank. (Let us say a word here in praise of the excellent manner in which the author has carried us through the adventure.) Here is Jack clattering up the chimney, now peering into the lonely red room, now opening "the door between the red room and the chapel." What a wild, fierce, scared look he has, the young ruffian, as cautiously he steps in, holding light his bar of iron. You can see by his face how his heart is beating! If any one were there! but no! And this is a very fine characteristic of the prints, the extreme LONELINESS of them all. Not a soul is there to disturb him--woe to him who should--and Jack drives in the chapel gate, and shatters down the passage door, and there you have him on the leads. Up he goes! it is but a spring of a few feet from the blanket, and he is gone--abiit, evasit, erupit! Mr. Wild must catch him again if he can.

We must not forget to mention "Oliver Twist," and Mr. Cruikshank's famous designs to that work.* The sausage scene at Fagin's, Nancy seizing the boy; that capital piece of humor, Mr. Bumble's courtship, which is even better in Cruikshank's version than in Boz's exquisite account of the interview; Sykes's farewell to the dog; and the Jew,--the dreadful Jew--that Cruikshank drew! What a fine touching picture of melancholy desolation is that of Sykes and the dog! The poor cur is not too well drawn, the landscape is stiff and formal; but in this case the faults, if faults they be, of execution rather add to than diminish the effect of the picture: it has a strange, wild, dreary, broken-hearted look; we fancy we see the landscape as it must have appeared to Sykes, when ghastly and with bloodshot eyes he looked at it. As for the Jew in the dungeon, let us say nothing of it--what can we say to describe it? What a fine homely poet is the man who can produce this little world of mirth or woe for us! Does he elaborate his effects by slow process of thought, or do they come to him by instinct? Does the painter ever arrange in his brain an image so complete, that he afterwards can copy it exactly on the canvas, or does the hand work in spite of him?

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