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Van Winkle slumber of thirty years' duration his reputation never once awoke. Out of the dreary desert of mental and artistic inactivity came forth at long distant intervals specimens of his handiwork, which served, it is true, to remind us of what he once was capable, but failed to restore him to the place he had for ever lost in public estimation; such were the illustrations to Angus Bethune Reach's “Clement Lorymer," to Robert Brough's “Life of Sir John Falstaff,” to Smedley's “ Frank Fairleigh,” to George Raymond's “Life and Enterprises of Elliston,” to his own so-called “ Fairy Library." Good and excellent as this work was, it utterly failed to lend even a passing vitality to his departed reputation, a fact sufficiently and vexatiously proved when he essayed once more to start a magazine of his own, which met with such little encouragement that only two parts were issued.
Nevertheless, the designs of the “Life of Falstaff” and his own “Fairy Library” showed that, when the subject took hold of his fancy, the hand of Cruikshank had not altogether lost the cunning which characterized it in days of yore. To illustrate the so-called fairy stories, he had to read them,- no longer, alas ! with his former love of fairy lore and legend, -no longer with the mind of a man free, vigorous, elastic, but with a mind warped and prejudiced with the study of a theme which was intellectually depressing and uninspiring. No one knows the origin of these fairy stories, they come to us from our Danish and Saxon ancestors, but are interwoven with the literature of every civilized nation under the sun, and are altogether beyond the sphere of modern criticism. Their primitive style is singularly adapted to enlist the sympathies of the little folk to whom they specially address themselves : their highest aim and object is not to instruct, but to amuse. All this the artist, in the ardour of his new crusade, lost sight of, and so dead had he become to the fairy fancies and reveries of his youth, that he placed sacrilegious hands on these time-honoured and favourite legends of our childhood, and converted them (with most indifferent literary ability) into something little better than temperance tracts !
But happily not without protest. Charles Dickens, the champion of the injured fairies, set his lance in rest, and speedily rolled hapless Van Winkle in the dust. Into the details of this very absurd and very unequal contest there is no necessity for '1, to enter. George was at home with his pencil, his etching needle, or his tubes of water colour; but put a pen in his hand, and he forthwith would cut the funniest of capers. He argued (with every appearance of comical gravity and earnestness), that because Shakespeare might alter an Italian story, or Sir Walter Scott use history for the purposes of the drama, poetry, or romance, therefore, “ any one might take the liberty of altering a common fairy story to suit his purpose and convey his opinions.” Aye, and so he might, honest Rip; but he would set about his task in a very different fashion to Shakespeare or Sir Walter Scott, and I fear 100 that the literary results and value would be vastly different. It never seemed to occur to the mind of the honest but simple casuist that in putting “any one ” on a par with William Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott, he was writing simple nonsense.
It is clear, therefore, that the change which had come over the literature of fiction during the past quarter of a century, and which Professor Bates would assign as one of the principal causes of the sterility which befel the genius of Cruikshank, had really very little to do with it. This calamity-for a national calamity it undoubtedly was—did not fall upon him, be it remembered, when he was old, but in the very acme and pride of artistic success. His fall was distinctly due to causes which were within his own control, and might have been avoided by the exercise of qualities which it seems to me) he did not possess,—forethought, tact, and judgment. During the rest of his long life, the place which George Cruikshank deliberately ceded to others he never once regained; when he dropped behind, he became as completely forgotten as if he had ceased any longer to exist ; men whose childhood he had delighted with his quaint imaginings, his own friends and contemporaries, died off ; and so it came to pass, that before he knew it, for time moves quickly after youth is over, the old man was left standing alone
amongst the ranks of a generation that did not know him. So little was he known or regarded, that when his works were first exhibited, no one took the trouble to see them; and when a small circle of admirers, with the great English critic, John Ruskin, at their head, started a subscription for the forgotten artist, “the attempt was a failure-hundreds being received when thousands were expected.” It will be remembered that in his best days the artist had executed a memorable etching, Born a Genius and Born a Dwarf: I wonder whether, in the bitterness of his spirit and the righteousness of his anger, George Cruikshank ever thought of that etching?
DECIDEDLY next in order of merit to George Cruikshank, amongst his own contemporaries, if we except only Theodore Lane, comes Robert Seymour. With a style and manner peculiar to himself, and a power of invention and realization which amounted almost to genius, Seymour was superior in every respect to Robert Cruikshank, with whom we find him not unfrequently associated in comic design. This style and manner were clearly founded on those of George Cruikshank; and when he selected (as he not unfrequently did) subjects which had been treated by the latter, the work of this most able draughtsman will bear even favourable comparison with that of the great original whom he chose as his master. That he drew his inspiration from and sought even to emulate Cruikshank,
is shown by the fact that to some of his earlier caricatures he (affixed the name of “Shortshanks," a practice which he discontinued on receiving a remonstrance from the irritable George
Robert Seymour was born in 1798. Henry Seymour, his father, a gentleman of good family in Somersetshire, meeting with misfortune, removed to London, and apprenticed him to Mr. Vaughan, a pattern designer of Duke Street, Smithfield. This Vaughan seems to deserve a passing notice here by reason of the fact that his father is said to have received proposals for partnership from the father of the late Sir Robert Peel, which were rejected, on the ground that the fortunes of the Peel family were not then considered particularly flourishing. How far this statement may be correct we know not. Assuming it to be true, the fortunes of the Peel
STARTS AS A PAINTER IN OILS.
family afterwards took a turn which probably frequently gave Vaughan père (if he lived to ruminate thereon) some serious cause for reflection as well as of repentance.
Like Hogarth, with whom this artist, like all other comic designers, has been frequently and improperly compared, young Robert Seymour declined to waste his abilities as a mere mechanical draughtsman, and used his technical education as a means of cultivating the artistic gifts with which nature and inclination had endowed him. He seems at first to have selected a walk in art which required for its ultimate success a larger amount of application and patience than he could well spare for the purpose. Shortly after the expiration of his indentures, he started as a painter in oils, and executed several pictures, one of which (a Biblical subject) included, it is said, no less than one hundred figures, whilst a no less ambitious subject than Tasso's “Jerusalem Delivered” was deemed of sufficient merit to be exhibited on the walls of the Royal Academy. Other pictorial subjects were taken from “Don Quixote,” “Waverley,” “The Tempest,” etc., besides which he executed numerous portraits and miniatures. These efforts, however, do not appear to have been sufficiently remunerative to encourage him to continue them, and after a time he resigned them to follow a branch of art more congenial, perhaps, to his abilities, and thenceforth very rapidly acquired fame as a social satirist and caricaturist.
The coloured caricatures of Robert Seymour, besides being comparatively scarce and little known, seem hardly to call for any particular description; the titles of some of them will be found mentioned in our Appendix. One which has survived, and with which the public are probably most familiar, is one of the worst of the series. It is entitled, Going it by Steam, is signed “Short Shanks,” and was published by King. Among rarer and better ones may be named two very excellent specimens, without date, published by Creed, of Chancery Lane, labelled respectively, A Musical Genius (a butcher boy playing on the Pandean pipes and accompanying himself with marrow bone and cleaver), and A Man of Taste and Feeling (a tramp caught in a trap while helping himse!!