The Tower of London. 8.0 cm high by 9.9 cm wide, vignetted, p. iii. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]— George Cruikshank. January 1840. Third illustration in William Harrison Ainsworth's
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
It has been, for years, the cherished wish of the writer of the following pages, to make the Tower of London —the proudest monument of antiquity, considered with reference to its historical associations, which this country or any other possesses, — the groundwork of a Romance; and it was no slight satisfaction to him, that circumstances, at length, enabled him to carry into effect his favourite project, in conjunction with the inimitable Artist[George Cruikshank], whose designs accompany the work.
Desirous of exhibiting the Tower in its triple light of a palace, a prison, and a fortress, the Author has shaped his story with reference to that end; and he has also endeavoured to contrive such a series of incidents as should naturally introduce every relic of the old pile, —its towers, chapels, halls, chambers, gateways, arches, and drawbridges —so that no part of it should remain un-illustrated.
How far this design has been accomplished —what interest has been given to particular buildings —and what mouldering walls have been informed with life —is now to be determined:—unless, indeed, it may be considered determined by the numbers who have visited the different buildings, as they have been successively depicted by pen and pencil, during the periodical appearance of the work.
One important object the Author would fain hope his labours may achieve. This is the introduction of the public to some parts of the fortress at present closed to them. There seems no reason why admission should not be given, under certain restrictions, to that unequalled specimen of Norman architecture, Saint John's Chapel in the White Tower, —to the arched galleries above it, —to the noble council-chamber, teeming with historical recollections, —to the vaulted passages —and to the winding staircases within the turrets —so perfect, and so interesting to the antiquary. Nor is there stronger reason why the prison-chamber in the Beauchamp Tower, now used as a mess-room, the walls of which, like a mystic scroll, are covered with inscriptions— each a tragic story in itself, and furnishing matter for abundant reflection —should not likewise be thrown open. Most of the old fortifications upon the inner ballium-wall being converted into private dwellings, —though in many cases the chambers are extremely curious, and rich in inscriptions, —are, of course, inaccessible. But this does not apply to the first-mentioned places. They are the property of the nation, and should be open to national inspection.
It is piteous to see what havoc has already been made by alterations and repairs. The palace is gone —so are many of the towers —and unless the progress of destruction is arrested, the demolition of others will follow. Let us attempt to preserve what remains. ["Preface," pp. iii-v]
His woodcuts of various features of the Tower, as they looked in the nineteenth century, are very dull, although they are neatly dropped into the text at appropriate points and make they intended effect. — Anthony Burton, "Cruikshank as an Illustrator of fiction," p. 115.
The question, then, is, "What was Cruikshank's intention in providing so many wood-engravings of the Tower and its environs?" Probably Ainsworth's intention was at least as much antiquarian as it was literary, for his passages describing the physical setting are often accompanied by Cruikshank's architectural wood-engravings. The highly realistic illustrations of the real setting lend some of the more outlandish aspects of Ainsworth's "historical romance" a certain verisimilitude, like the sixteenth-century costumes worn by the characters in Cruikshank's forty steel-engravings. But the essential difference between the etchings on the facing pages and the wood-engravings dropped into the text and read simultaneously with the text is inner life. Even though the Warders, for example, are caricatures, they are lively, whereas the architectural scenes, with the exception of the present illustration and the title-page vignette, are entirely lacking in figures. They are, as it were, promotional pictures for London tourism utterly devoid of tourists. The wood-engravings generally represent the "historical" aspect of the story asserted in the subtitle. This particular engraving serves as an induction as the open portal bids the reader enter the mid-sixteenth century on Tower Hill.
The presence of member of a modern regiment, The Royal Fuseliers, carrying a modern firearm, coupled with the four Wardens in their Tudor, livery implies the co-existence of London's fabled past and its prosaic present. The small doorway to the right is not a grand entrance, but a work-a-day portal which those employed in the Tower are accustomed to use in commission of their duties, so that Cruikshank's choice of subject for his first regularly placed wood-engraving, dropped into Ainsworth's letter-press, implies that the artist and author (a mixed-media partnership to which Ainsworth alludes in the opening paragraph) are inviting the reader to enter the action of the novel by a back-door, as it were, and experience the historical events which they are describing from a more intimate and personal perspective (that of the Warders Gog and Magog, for example) than that of a Tudor or a Victorian historian. The wood-engraving situates the reader in 1840 rather than 1553, offering a tranquil, behind-the-scenes moment that contrasts the high drama and Gothic terrors of the subsequent narrative.
"Ainsworth, William Harrison." http://biography.com
Ainsworth, William Harrison. The Tower of London. Illustrated by George Cruikshank. London: Richard Bentley, 1840.
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.
Carver, Stephen. Ainsworth and Friends: Essays on 19th Century Literature & The Gothic. 11 September 2017.
Chesson, Wilfred Hugh. George Cruikshank. The Popular Library of Art. London: Duckworth, 1908.
Department of Environment, Great Britain. The Tower of London. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1967, rpt. 1971.
Golden, Catherine J. "Ainsworth, William Harrison (1805-1882." Victorian Britain: An Encyclopedia, ed. Sally Mitchell. New York and London: Garland, 1988. Page 14.
Kelly, Patrick. "William Harrison Ainsworth." Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 21, "Victorian Novelists Before 1885," ed. Ira Bruce Nadel and William E. Fredeman. Detroit: Gale Research, 1983. Pp. 3-9.
McLean, Ruari. George Cruikshank: His Life and Work as a Book Illustrator. English Masters of Black-and-White. London: Art and Technics, 1948.
Pitkin Pictorials. Prisoners in the Tower. Caterham & Crawley: Garrod and Lofthouse International, 1972.
Sutherland, John. "The Tower of London" in The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 19893. P. 633.
Steig, Michael. "George Cruikshank and the Grotesque: A Psychodynamic Approach." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Ed. Robert L. Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rev., 1992. Pp. 189-212.
Vogler, Richard A. Graphic Works of George Cruikshank. Dover Pictorial Archive Series. New York: Dover, 1979.
Worth, George J. William Harrison Ainsworth. New York: Twayne, 1972.
Vann, J. Don. "The Tower of London, thirteen parts in twelve monthly instalments, January-December 1840." Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: MLA, 1985. Pp. 19-20.
Last modified 13 September 2017