Cruikshank, Isaac Robert (DNB00)

CRUIKSHANK, ISAAC ROBERT, or ROBERT (1789–1856), caricaturist and miniature-painter, eldest son of Isaac Cruikshank [q. v.], was born in Duke Street, Bloomsbury, on 27 Sept. 1789. After some elementary education, followed by a brief practice of art under his father, he went to sea as a midshipman in the East India Company's ship Perseverance. Returning from his first voyage, he was left behind at St. Helena by an accident, and made his way home in a whaler, to the astonishment of his relatives, who had believed him dead. He found that his younger brother George had made considerable progress as an artist during his absence, and he seems to have relinquished seafaring to follow in his steps. When his father died he kept on the house in Dorset Street, Salisbury Square, to which the family had moved from Duke Street, and occupied himself, not unsuccessfully, in miniature and portrait painting. In his earlier days he made, among other theatrical studies, many sketches of Edmund Kean, with whom he and his brother had formed an intimacy which continued long after the actor had ceased to be obscure. At his marriage the Cruikshank family migrated to King Street, Holborn, where he had the good fortune to succeed in obtaining (through the keyhole) a sitting, or sittings, from old Mrs. Garrick, then in her ninetieth year, and visiting one of his mother's lodgers. From King Street he passed to more fashionable quarters in St. James's Place, St. James's Street, still chiefly occupying himself as a miniature-painter, but occasionally varying his work with the caricatures and comic sketches affected by his junior. By-and-by he devoted himself almost exclusively to humorous art. One of the earliest known of his efforts in this way is an etching, after the design of an amateur, of the Princess Charlotte in a fit of rebellion at the paternal tyranny which sought to interrupt her intercourse with her unhappy mother. It is dated April 1816, when he was six-and-twenty, and is entitled ‘The Mother's Girl Plucking a Crow, or German Flesh and English Spirit.’ His most fertile field, however, seems to have lain in endless graphic satire of the fantastic exquisites of his day, the laced and padded and trussed and top-booted monstrosities that English eccentricity had elaborated from French post-revolutionary extravagance. Dandies en chemisette, dandies tight-lacing, dandies at tea, dandies on the hobby-horses which anticipated the modern bicycle; these alternated under his pencil with sketches of the regent and the injured Caroline, records of popular scandals, such as the liaison of Colonel Berkeley with Maria Foote the actress, and portraits of characters as diverse as Madame Catalani, the singer, and Seurat, the ‘living skeleton.’ One of the best of his purely political efforts was prompted by the French intervention in Spain of 1823. It represents John Bull flourishing in an attitude of strict neutrality—a neutrality enforced by his confinement in the stocks and fetters of a national debt and overwhelming war taxes.

By 1820 Robert Cruikshank had an acknowledged reputation as a caricaturist; but after 1825 his activity in this direction seems to have declined in favour of book illustration. It would be impossible to enumerate his performances in this way, but much detailed information upon the subject is to be found in Bates's ‘George Cruikshank,’ 1879, and Everitt's ‘English Caricaturists,’ 1886. ‘Lessons of Thrift,’ 1820, Hibbert's ‘Tales of the Cordelier Metamorphosed,’ 1821, Westmacott's ‘Points of Misery’ (a pendant to his brother's ‘Points of Humour’), 1823, ‘Don Quixote,’ 1824, Westmacott's ‘English Spy,’ 1825, ‘Facetiæ; or, Cruikshank's Comic Album,’ are some of the books to which he furnished embellishments. At times he worked in collaboration with his brother George. Nightingale's ‘Memoirs of Queen Caroline,’ 1820, ‘Life in London,’ 1821, ‘London Characters,’ 1827, the ‘Universal Songster; or, Museum of Mirth,’ 1828, are among the works in this category; and he also joined with Robert Seymour in the illustrations to the ‘Odd Volume; or, Book of Variety;’ with R. W. Buss and Kenny Meadows; and, in Daniel's ‘Merrie England in the Olden Time,’ 1841, even with Leech. Perhaps the ‘Life in London,’ or, to quote the title more at length, ‘The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq., and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis,’ 1821, is the most notable of the foregoing list—at all events, if popularity is to be the test of merit. The greater part of the illustrations—two-thirds, it is said—were by Robert Cruikshank; and his son (according to Blanchard Jerrold, Life of George Cruikshank, 1883, pp. 82–3) claimed the original idea for his father, who, he says, ‘conceived the notion, and planned the designs, while showing a brother-in-law, just returned from China, some of the “life” which was going on in London at the time. He designed the characters of Tom, Jerry, and Logic, from himself, his brother-in-law, and Pierce Egan, keeping to the likenesses of each model.’ Pierce Egan, here mentioned, was the editor of ‘Boxiana,’ and the purveyor of much of the ‘fast’ and sporting literature of the time. He supplied the text, which was ‘dedicated to His Most Gracious Majesty George the Fourth,’ not, it is reported, an unfamiliar assistant at some of the saturnalia in which Tom and Jerry took part. The success of ‘Life in London’ was remarkable, and wholly unexpected by its publishers, Messrs. Sherwood, Neely, & Jones. Its characters became as popular as those of the ‘Beggar's Opera,’ and Tom and Jerry, Dusty Bob and Corinthian Kate, were transferred to handkerchiefs and teatrays as freely as Macheath and Polly had been to fanmounts and snuffboxes. It was several times successfully dramatised; and it seems, like Gay's ‘Newgate Pastoral,’ to have been more reasonably, but quite as ineffectually, assailed by contemporary moralists. Some years later Egan and Cruikshank endeavoured to revive the interest in the three heroes of ‘Life in London’ by a sequel entitled ‘The Finish to the Adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic in their Pursuits through Life in and out of London,’ 1828; but the effort, the initiation of which was wholly due to the artist, was not attended with any special success. Between the appearance of the ‘Life’ and its sequel Cruikshank had been employed upon another book purporting to give pictures of life, which is really more important. This was the ‘English Spy’ (1825) of Charles Molloy Westmacott, a book which contains many curious representations of society in the metropolis and other fashionable centres, and, reproducing many well-known characters, ranges easily from Brighton and Carlton House to Billingsgate and the Argyle Rooms. Rowlandson did one of the illustrations; but the other seventy-one are by Cruikshank, to whom Westmacott, masquerading himself as ‘Bernard Blackmantle,’ gave the nom de guerre of ‘Robert Transit.’ Among other books on which Cruikshank was engaged are ‘Doings in London,’ 1828, with illustrations on wood engraved by Bonner; ‘Crithannah's Original Fables,’ 1834; ‘Colburn's Kalendar of Amusements,’ 1840; and ‘The Orphan’ (a translation of the ‘Mathilde’ of Eugène Sue). He died on 13 March 1856, in his sixty-seventh year. It is possible that his reputation may have suffered to some extent from the superior popularity of his brother George. But it is certain that with many happy qualities as a draughtsman and pictorial satirist, he had neither the individuality, the fancy, nor the originality of his junior. As a man he was a pleasant and lively companion, but too easily seduced by the pleasures of the table. It is further recorded that he was an exceedingly skilful archer.

[Everitt's English Caricaturists, 1886, pp. 89–124; Jerrold's Life of George Cruikshank, 2nd edit. 1883; Redgrave; Bates's George Cruikshank, 2nd edit. 1879, pp. 57–69.]

A. D.