Mutual undermining by “Boz” and Cruikshank?
Helen-Frances Pilkington (Birkbeck)
Mary L. Shannon’s paper, at the recent The Artist and the Writer RIN symposium, discussed how Dickens, in the guise of “Boz”, had used Cruikshank’s established visual persona to bolster his own. This led me to think about another “Boz” – Cruikshank relationship from August 1838 in Bentley’s Miscellany, where they had engaged in some mutual under-mining. The sketch in question was the ‘Full Report of the Second Meeting of the Mudfog Association for the Advancement of Everything’ which was ‘illustrated by George Cruikshank’.
Within this article is a discussion on the local beadle. “Boz” was given the chance to state his case first. Mr Sowster, the reader is informed, was a ‘fat man, with a more enlarged development of that peculiar conformation of countenance which is vulgarly termed a double chin.’ After some ‘unconstitutional proceedings’ in which Mr Sowster was employed as a bouncer for the Mudfog meeting, “Boz” announced that he had ‘procured a local artist to make a faithful sketch of the tyrant Sowster’. This likeness was ‘from the life, and complete in every respect. Even if I had been totally ignorant of the man’s real character, and had it been placed before me without remark, I should have shuddered involuntarily. There is an intense malignity of expression in the features, and a baleful ferocity of purpose in the ruffian’s eye, which appals and sickens. His whole air is rampant with cruelty, nor is the stomach less characteristic of his demoniac propensities.’ Such a description evokes terror, potentially comic, especially when considering the satirical trope of beadles.
As noted by Sally Ledger, one of the prototypes for Mr Bumble, the beadle in Oliver Twist (1837-1838), was Robert Seymour’s 1830 engraving ‘Heaven and Earth’ in which a beadle, in a cocked hat, flowing robes and staff, descends from the clouds to deny relief to starving paupers (Figure 1: bottom centre).
Figure 1: Robert Seymour, ‘Heaven & Earth’, 1830 © British Museum
Ledger noted that ‘this image of the Beadle as a pompously attired, self-important petty official that established a satirical genealogy upon which Dickens and Cruikshank would together build a few years later in Sketches by Boz and Oliver Twist‘. Given the “Boz”-ian text, the date and the article title proclaiming the Cruikshank illustrations, the expectation for the first readers would have been a continuation of this trope. However, the ‘faithful’ sketch by the ‘local artist’ in Bentley’s Miscellany turned out to be quite different (Figure 2):
Figure 2: George Cruikshank, ‘The Tyrant Sowster’, Bentley’s Miscellany (1838) © Victoria and Albert Museum
In Figure 2, Cruikshank has depicted Sowster as a benignly comic figure, all double-chin and belly with little arms and legs attached, rather than the ferocious tyrant per “Boz’s” description or the pompous petty official of the satirical stereotype. So who is right? Is the ‘local artist’ incapable of accurate sketching or has “Boz” been carried away by his rhetoric?
Helen-Frances Pilkington (Birkbeck)
Helen-Frances is a PhD student at Birkbeck focusing on hot air balloons and railways in the early nineteenth century
Dickens, Charles; ‘The Second Report of the Mudfog Association for the Advancement of Everything’; Bentley’s Miscellany; 4; (August 1838); 209-227.
Ledger, Sally; ‘From Queen Caroline to Lady Deadlock: Dickens and the Popular Radical Imagination’; Victorian Literature and Culture; 32; (2004); 575-600.