The Bottle. Folio page: 46 x 36 cm (24 inches by 14.5 inches), framed. The etchings were reproduced by glyphography, "enabling the publisher [David Bogue, London] to sell the entire series for one shilling" (Vogler, p. 159). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]— George Cruikshank. 1847. Second illustration in
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In 1847, the Manchester reformer Joseph Adshead commissioned Cruikshank to produce a pro-temperance series of folio illustrations for widespread distribution. At this point, Cruikshank was not (officially, at least) a "teetotaller." According to Louis James, "It was only the comment of William Cash, Chairman of the National Temperance Society, on the completed series that led Cruikshank to sign the pledge" (p. 168). After the stunning sales of The Bottle in September of that year, the artist, himself a former alcoholic from a family ravaged by alcoholism, took the pledge to abstain from alcohol and joined the Temperance movement. For the next thirty years he lectured throughout the British Isles on the dangers of intemperance and on the manifold benefits of sobriety, a perspective that informs his moralistic re-retelling of the stories in George Cruikshank's Fairy Library (1853-65). Moreover, three subsequent books directly reflect Cruikshank's concerns about British society's obligation to protect children, particularly in households afflicted with alcohol abuse: The Drunkard's Children (1848, published as a companion and corollary to The Bottle), A Slice of Bread and Butter (1857), and Our Gutter Children (1869). Whereas Charles Dickens felt that moderate consumption of alcohol was acceptable, and that genuine reform required such remedies as universal education, affordable health care, and a living wage, Cruikshank regarded drinking as a socially and physically destructive habit that the alchoholic could overcome only by sheer will-power. As James argues out, The Bottle should be regarded as literature for the improvement of the working classes despite its high initial cost.
As in The Gin Shop, the series is not simply about the evils of drink. . . . . It is a companion piece, by antithesis, to the literature of working-class endeavor also closely linked to teetotalism such periodicals as John Cassell's The Working Man's Friend (1850-53). Drink was evil because it threatened the economic ethic of self-help, with its ancillaries of self-respect and the ordered family unit. [p. 167]
Combining the roles of story-teller and graphic artist, Cruikshank delivers his "anti-progress" to his readers with repeated figures and details, beginning with the visual continuity of the parlour and its nuclear Victorian family. According to James,
The design of the series owes much to the theatrical "box set" introduced into England a few years previously (1841) by Madame Vestris. In all but one of the scenes the setting remains the same, the cleverest effect of all coming in the final act, where the mad cell is shown to have exactly the same lay-out as the sitting-room in which the story opened, but denuded of all human meaning. . . . Within this set framework Cruikshank was able to chronicle minutely the degradation of the group, physically and symbolically. [p. 166]
Cruikshank dramatizes his insistence that even the modest consumption of alcohol can quickly lead to alcohol-dependence, which in turn leads to the misery of poverty and unemployment. In the second frame, he establishes this downward trajectory by showing the family reduced to pawning their belongings to supply the drug for father's addiction. Thus, journalist, reformer, and playwright Douglas Jerrold in his review of the portfolio in his own Weekly Paper (11 September 1847) metaphorically described the alcoholic beverage as "the juniper poison" (cited in Meisel, p. 124). Every detail reinforces the conception of a downward spiral as the viewer inevitably compares this scene of degradation to that of the happy family in Plate I. "In plate 2 the cupboard holds naught but two jugs; the lean cat prowls over the bare table; an ornament on the mantelshelf lies on its side," as Edwardian critic W. H. Chesson commented in George Cruikshank (p. 56). Cruikshank utilizes the same space, but moves us ahead by days or possibly weeks: it is now evening, and the room has undergone some obvious changes. As the young children regard their near-comatose father with apprehension, the mother supplies her adolescent daughter an object of clothing to pawn — and the over-sized black bottle to be replenished. As Richard A. Vogler remarks in his analysis (based in part on Blanchard Jerrold’s life of Cruikshank ),
The flowers on the bureau [left, as in Plate I] now droop. The family Bible is gone, possibly moved to the top bureau drawer [or pawned; certainly disregarded in a home given over to hedonism]. The hungry mother cat looks for food but finds the plate empty — a motif reminiscent of the last plate of Hogarth's Marriage a-la-Mode (1745). It is seven-fifteen in the evening, but there are no indications of the family's having eaten dinner. Next to the outside door, the oldest daughter is being sent with some personal belongings to pawn and a bottle for more gin. The room now looks a bit disorganized, one of the china figures on the mantelpiece being on its side. The barely open cupboard shows that most of the dishes have been pawned; the unlit fireplace, that there is no longer money for coal. The disheveled appearance and stupor of the husband give evidence of his disintegration; the anxious looks on the faces of the children demonstrate their distress. Half of the dried flowers over the small oval portrait below the church painting are gone.The tea chest, seen on the table in the first print, is now only half visible on the table behind the father, the suggestion being that it is no longer in daily use — at least for the master — since gin has taken its place in the household. 
Above: Cruikshank's materialistically "happy home" in the first of the illustrations in the 1847 sequence, The Bottle Is Brought Out for the First Time: The Husband Induces His Wife "Just to Take a Drop." [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
In the previous frame, the children appeared to be active, playing and conversing with each other after the meal; now the brother protectively holds his little sister, their decapitated toy horse lying neglected at their feet. Cruikshank has moved in slightly, enlarging the figures and making the room seem smaller. Both of the carpets from Plate I have disappeared, and the open drawers of the chest-of-drawers (left) imply the descent of domestic chaos. The teenaged daughter, who smiled benignly upon parents, now regards her mother (delivering instructions for how to procure money and how to spend it) without a trace of a smile; Cruikshank leaves the viewer, however, to imagine the expression on the wife's face — and to imagine what she is saying, one of the few instances in the series in which Cruikshank requires the viewer to imagine her speaking. The shadow of the addled father darkens the centre of the Victorian home, the hearth where once a roaring fire cheered the home's occupants. Presumably the father is wearing his hat, formerly hanging on the back wall, left, in order to stay warm. The hook that extended from the centre of the fireplace in Plate I is missing, as if Cruikshank is implying that no boiling of water for food preparation and tea will be necessary, and the fire implements, the brush and the poker, lie disregarded rather than in their appropriate places. In the iconography of everyday objects in what had been a model Victorian parlour, that the china figurine that has been knocked over is that of a male is significant insofar as it mirrors the moral lapse of the head of the household, who, under the influence of the curse of gin, is no longer capable of standing: "The series shows a home becoming a room" (James, p. 167). Finally, the open book (bottom right in Plate I) which had proclaimed "Designed and Etched / by George Cruikshank" is illegible. The kitten, frolicking with its mother in the first frame, is no where to be seen, for the spirit of play, and joy, and carefree youth has vanished, leaving a depressing pall over the room and its occupants. The visual continuity of the room and its furnishings contrast these dire changes of less than seven hours (and an unknown number of days), as if Cruikshank is remarking, "col tempo."
- George Cruikshank and Charles Dickens
- The Gin-Shop
- "Great is thy power, O Gin" — Reynold's sermon on the harm it does to the poor
- London Gin Shops
- "Frauds on the Fairies" (1 October 1853)
- Temperance, Teetotalism, and Addiction in the Nineteenth Century
- Addiction in the Nineteenth Century
- Drunkedness and the ease of obtaining alcohol
- Alcohol and Alcoholism in Victorian England
- The Band of Hope Review
- Charles Dickens and Two Kinds of Punch, 1. The Beverage
Chesson, Wilfred Hugh. George Cruikshank. The Popular Library of Art. London: Duckworth, 1908.
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.
Davies, Robertson. "Playwrights and Plays, 1840-1850." The Revels History of Drama in English, Volume VI: 1750-1880. Ed. Clifford Leech and T. W. Craik. London: Methuen, 1975. Pp. 231-240.
James, Louis. "An Artist in Time: George Cruikshank in Three Eras." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Ed. Robert L. Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rev., 1992. Pp. 156-187.
Jerrold, Blanchard. "Epoch Two, 1848-1878. Chapter 2, The Bottle." The Life of George Cruikshank. In Two Epochs. Illustrated by George Cruikshank. 2 vols. London: Chatto and Windus, 1882. Vol. 2, Pp. 248-255.
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.
Meisel, Martin. Chapter 7, "From Hogarth to Cruikshank." Realizations: Narrative, Pictorial, and Theatrical Arts in Nineteenth-Century England. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1989. Pp. 97-141.
Mellby, Julie L. "More than 100,000 copies sold in the first few days." Graphic Arts: Exhibitions, acquisitions, and other highlights from the Graphic Arts Collection, Princeton University Library. Web. 13 April 2011. https://blogs.princeton.edu/graphicarts/2011/04/the_bottle.html
Vogler, Richard A. Graphic Works of George Cruikshank. Dover Pictorial Archive Series. New York: Dover, 1979.
Last modified 7 August 2017