Our Library Table — George Cruikshank and Harrison Ainsworth at work for Ainsworth's Magazine (1842), 7.8 cm high by 9.9 cm wide, framed. Founded in February 1842 by the great historical novelist after he left his post as editor of Bentley's Miscellany in December 1841, the magazine lasted until 1854, thanks in part to Cruikshank's role as illustrator until 1845. The veteran illustrator worked on seven of Ainsworth's best-sellers, the last of which was the triple-decker St. James's, or, The Court of Queen Anne (nine steel etchings, 1844). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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In the magazine's wood-engraving Our Library Table, 1842, George Cruikshank (1792-1878) is discussing the program of illustration for one of the early 1840s novels of William Harrison Ainsworth (1805-1882) with his host for Ainsworth's Magazine, A Miscellany of Romance, General literature & Art. Given the date, the manuscript under discussion is likely The Miser's Daughter (1842), later published in three volumes, to which Cruikshank contributed twenty etchings. The novel started serially in the inaugural number of Ainsworth's Magazine in February 1842, and ran until November of that same year in monthly numbers. In this 1842 wood-cut, Ainsworth is sitting back, absorbing what Cruikshank (readily identifiable by his bushy sideburns). Manuscripts are strewn across the table in Ainsworth's well-stocked library, implying that the subject of the "table-talk" is appropriate illustrations for several instalments.

Capitalising upon the massive and enduring popularity of the Waverley Novels of Sir Walter Scott (1814-1830), Ainsworth anglicized the Scottish romance formula, utilizing the "English Gothic" of Anne Radcliffe. Although he published his first historical romance, Rookwood without illustration in 1834 at the age of twenty-nine, by the time that it had run to the fourth edition the novelist had wisely hitched his star to the leading book-illustrator of the age, George Cruikshank. Succeeding Charles Dickens as the editor of Bentley's Miscellany in 1839, Ainsworth scored his second popular success with the rogue novel Jack Sheppard, issued monthly with illustrations again by Cruikshank. When the romance was adapted for the London stage, the management of the Royal Surrey even arranged for Cruikshank to supervise the stage scenery so that it would be consistent with the monthly illustrations. It was through Ainsworth's salon that Cruikshank and Dickens first met, establishing the significant collaborative relationship that lasted through Sketches by Boz, Oliver Twist, and Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi. Ainsworth, like Dickens, lasted just two years at the editor's post owing to disagreements with the intrusive publisher.

Appearing monthly at the cost of one shilling, sixpence, Ainsworth's new journal (which featured his surname in its title as a promotional strategy) quickly soared to its circulation peak of 7,000 per issue, buoyed up by Cruikshank's illustrations to Ainsworth's serialised romances, notably Windsor Castle (1843); shortly after, in July 1844, the new and enormously popular young illustrator Hablot Knight Browne superseded Cruikshank as the journal's principal illustrator. Presumably, the illustration depicts Ainsworth's book-lined study at his new London mansion and literary node of all orbits, Kensal Lodge, a salon attended by such artistic luminaries as William Makeperace Thackeray, Benjanin Disraeli, John Forster, Charles Dickens, the Cruikshank brothers from 1835. In 1841, he subsequently moved to nearby Kensal Manor House. For fourteen years, these two Ainsworth residences served as hubs of London literary life as Ainsworth held lavish literary dinners. When in 1853 Ainsworth moved to Brighton, his career fell sharply into decline. "Essentially derivative, he was at his most creative when paired with a more original mind than his own such as the illustrator George Cruikshank's in the period 1836-45" (Sutherland, 14). the high point of their creative partner was the 1840 serialisation of The Tower of London, which features both forty full-page Cruikshank steel engravings and numerous woodcuts set right into the letterpress. "Cruikshank's tableaux compositions (derived from theatrical settings and groupings) were extremely effective" (Sutherland, 164).

Author and artist visited the Tower each month to study carefully the scene for the next instalment, and then dined convivially together at Ainsworth's house. It was this arrangement, whereby text and illustrations were produced separately, after discussion, that gave Cruikshank an excuse for exaggerating the nature and importance of his own share in the work. However, his delusions about this did not blossom out till thirty years later. Cruikshank also illustrated Ainsworth's Guy Fawkes, appearing in Bentley's Miscellany, but did not put his best powers into this work, as he had quarrelled with Bentley and wished to be free of his contract. In 1841, Cruikshank and Ainsworth quarrelled, apparently because Ainsworth, having written a novel called Old St. Paul's, which Cruikshank claimed to have suggested with a view to illustrating it himself, had it illustrated by someone else, namely, John Franklin. — McLean, "V. Cruikshank and Ainsworth," p. 31.

See also John Franklin Franklin as an illustrator of fiction: Ainsworth, Cruikshank and Macrone.


Burton, Anthony. "Cruikshank as an Illustrator of Fiction." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Ed. Robert L. Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rev., 1992. Pp. 92-128.

Cohen, Jane Rabb. Part One, "Dickens and His Early Illustrators: 1. George Cruikshank. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio University Press, 1980. Pp. 15-38.

"The Irish Rising of 1798." The Oxford Companion to British History. Oxford, New York: Oxford U. Pr, 1997. https://exhibits.library.villanova.edu/archive/rebellion/1798/

Kitton, Frederic G. "George Cruikshank." Dickens and His Illustrators. London: Chapman & Hall, 1899. Pp. 1-28.

McLean, Ruari. George Cruikshank: His Life and Work as a Book Illustrator. English Masters of Black-and-White. London: Art and Technics, 1948.

Maxwell, William Hamilton. History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798; with memoirs of the Union, and Emmett's insurrection in 1803. Illustrated by George Cruikshank and E. P. Lightfoot. London: Baily Brothers, Cornhill, 1845. [Cruikshank, not mentioned on the title-page, provided etchings; he is more prominently mentioned on the title-page of the George Bell edition of 1884.]

Paulson, Ronald. "The Tradition of Comic Illustration from Hogarth to Cruikshank." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Ed. Robert L. Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rev., 1992. Pp. 35-60.

Sutherland, John. "Ainsworth, William Garrison." The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction. Stanford, CA: Stanford U. P., 1989. Pp. 13-15.

Sutherland, John. "Cruikshank, George." The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction. Stanford, CA: Stanford U. P., 1989. Pp. 164-165.

Last modified 11 July 2017