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. Sixth illustration in
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After the numbed emotions of the previous illustration, this kinetic scene of conflicting passions is a welcome reminder that these people are still capable of strong feeling, and that the children are prepared to come to their mother's rescue. As Richard A. Vogler points out, “The children try to prevent their father from physically harming his terrified wife, who stands between him and the ominous-appearing bottle on the mantel, while a distraught neighbor looks in through the half-open door. The frenetic scene shows the few remaining household possessions overturned on the floor. A shawl has fallen too near the fireplace and, like the family, is being destroyed” (p. 160). The overturned table and chair and the garment catching fire, which add to the urgency of the situation, suggest the violence that the father's addiction has released. Whereas the previous scene contained a crack in the lath and plaster, here Cruikshank adds a crack in the hearth tiles, implying the dissolution of the room, and, by extension, the dissolution of the family. In the next illustration, Cruikshank depicts the aftermath of the wife's murder, a scene in which the community finally reacts to the husband's violence towards his wife — too late, of course, to do her or the children any good.
Within the reach of the working classes
Cruikshank wrote many years later to the editor of the Aesthetic Review, "in order that it might be within the reach of the working classes, for when an artist is working for the million, cheapness of price has to be considered and I had them produced by the only available cheap process at that time (now about 30 years ago) and this will account for the roughness of their style." Like Hogarth's Four Stages of Cruelty [a visual moralistic tract first issued on cheap paper in 1751], designed to be produced as woodcuts a year before publication in the more exclusive copperplate version, The Bottle was an artless, captioned, all purpose morality play, so compelling that it went through at least eight stage versions and was turned into a waxworks. 
For a mere shilling, the cost of a single monthly instalment of a Dickens novel, a working class family would have had access to a series of six "fine art" prints that could be simply framed and displayed on the walls of their homes, the pictures serving as constant reminders of the emotional and physical consequences of alcohol abuse. Cruikshank's biographer, Blanchard Jerrold, praises not so much the illustrator's technical skill and composition as he does the illustrator's benevolent intention:
The police courts unfold daily stories of clerks and others, holding positions of honour and of trust, who have first staggered out of the straight path under the influence of drink. Cruikshank’s beginning of his drama is only too true to life; and I think he would have made a mistake, that he would have weakened the tremendous force of his moral, if he had put the excuse of sorrow, or poverty, or ignorance into his opening scene. As his story, stands, it teaches humble and happy households, in a rough text which all who run may read, to have a care whenever the bottle appears on the scene; and to lose no opportunity of impressing, upon the children the danger, of putting; the enemy near, their mouths, who may steal away, not their brains only, but their heart and soul. [p. 97]
- George Cruikshank and Charles Dickens
- Charles Dickens, His Illustrators, and Representing Violence toward Women
- 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
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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.
Feaver, William. "'At it Again': Aspects of Cruikshank's Later Work." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Ed. Robert L. Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rev., 1992. Pp. 249-58.
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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 10 August 2017