Etching on copper
13 x 9.9 cm vignetted
"Gin-Shops" — the twenty-second chapter in "Scenes," by Charles Dickens in Sketches by Boz, facing p. 134.
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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Passage Suggested by the Illustration
The extensive scale on which these places are established, and the ostentatious manner in which the business of even the smallest among them is divided into branches, is amusing. A handsome plate of ground glass in one door directs you "To the Counting-house;" another to the "Bottle Department;" a third to the "Wholesale Department;" a fourth to "The Wine Promenade;" and so forth, until we are in daily expectation of meeting with a "Brandy Bell," or a "Whiskey Entrance." Then, ingenuity is exhausted in devising attractive titles for the different descriptions of gin; and the dram-drinking portion of the community as they gaze upon the gigantic black and white announcements, which are only to be equalled in size by the figures beneath them, are left in a state of pleasing hesitation between "The Cream of the Valley," "The Out and Out," "The No Mistake," "The Good for Mixing," "The real Knock-me-down," "The celebrated Butter Gin," "The regular Flare-up," and a dozen other, equally inviting and wholesome liqueurs. Although places of this description are to be met with in every second street, they are invariably numerous and splendid in precise proportion to the dirt and poverty of the surrounding neighbourhood. The gin-shops in and near Drury Lane, Holborn, St. Giles's, Covent Garden, and Clare Market ar the handsomest in London. There is more of filth and squalid misery near those great thoroughfares than in any part of this mighty city.
We will endeavour to sketch the bar of a large gin-shop, and its ordinary customers, for the edification of such of our readers as may not have had opportunities of observing such scenes; and on the chance of finding one well suited to our purpose, we will make for Drury-Lane, through the narrow streets and dirty courts which divide it from Oxford-street, and that classical spot adjoining the brewery at the bottom of Tottenham-court-road, best known to the initiated as the "Rookery." . . . .
You turn the corner. What a change! All is light and brilliancy. The hum of many voices issues from that splendid gin-shop which forms the commencement of the two streets opposite; and the gay building with the fantastically ornamented parapet, the illuminated clock, the plate-glass windows surrounded by stucco rosettes, and its profusion of gas-lights in richly-gilt burners, is perfectly dazzling when contrasted with the darkness and dirt we have just left. The interior is even gayer than the exterior. A bar of French-polished mahogany, elegantly carved, extends the whole width of the place; and there are two side-aisles of great casks, painted green and gold, enclosed within a light brass rail, and bearing such inscriptions, as "Old Tom, 549;" "Young Tom, 360;" "Samson, 1421" — the figures agreeing, we presume, with "gallons," understood. Beyond the bar is a lofty and spacious saloon, full of the same enticing vessels, with a gallery running round it, equally well furnished. On the counter, in addition to the usual spirit apparatus, are two or three little baskets of cakes and biscuits, which are carefully secured at top with wicker-work, to prevent their contents being unlawfully abstracted. Behind it, are two showily-dressed damsels with large necklaces, dispensing the spirits and "compounds." They are assisted by the ostensible proprietor of the concern, a stout, coarse fellow in a fur cap, put on very much on one side to give him a knowing air, and to display his sandy whiskers to the best advantage.
The two old washerwomen, who are seated on the little bench to the left of the bar, are rather overcome by the head-dresses and haughty demeanour of the young ladies who officiate. They receive their half-quartern of gin and peppermint, with considerable deference, prefacing a request for "one of them soft biscuits," with a "Jist be good enough, ma’am." They are quite astonished at the impudent air of the young fellow in a brown coat and bright buttons, who, ushering in his two companions, and walking up to the bar in as careless a manner as if he had been used to green and gold ornaments all his life, winks at one of the young ladies with singular coolness, and calls for a "kervorten and a three-out-glass," just as if the place were his own. "Gin for you, sir?" says the young lady when she has drawn it: carefully looking every way but the right one, to show that the wink had no effect upon her. "For me, Mary, my dear," replies the gentleman in brown. "My name an’t Mary as it happens," says the young girl, rather relaxing as she delivers the change. "Well, if it an't, it ought to be," responds the irresistible one; "all the Marys as ever I see, was handsome gals." Here the young lady, not precisely remembering how blushes are managed in such cases, abruptly ends the flirtation by addressing the female in the faded feathers who has just entered, and who, after stating explicitly, to prevent any subsequent misunderstanding, that "this gentleman pays," calls for "a glass of port wine and a bit of sugar." — "Scenes," Chapter 22, "Gin-Shops," p. 135-137.
Both [artist and author] were intimately acquainted with the physical, social, and moral topography of middle and lower class London in the 1830's, the setting for all of the Sketches. Indeed, the painstakingly accurate verbal and graphic descriptions of costumes, furnishings, and vehicles in scenes like 'Seven Dials' (S, V, facing p. 70) and 'The Last Cabdriver' (S, XVII, facing p. 140) make the book a valuable quarry for historians of the period. — Jane Rabb Cohen, p. 17.
The sketch of a typical London street scene, initially published in the Evening Chronicle on 7 February 1835, is dedicated to "Gin-Shops," of which the metropolis appears to have possessed an abundance in the early 1830s, catering chiefly to the lower classes. Both the article and the subsequent Cruikshank illustration reference (at least, by implication) Gin Lane (1751) by William Hogarth. Initially, "Gin-Shops" appeared in volume form in February 1836; the "Second Series" in August 1836 included it, as did the first complete one-volume edition appeared in 1839, and the Cheap Edition, published in 1850. It has come to represent the less pleasant aspects of working-class London that Dickens reveals in his Sketches. Whereas Hogarth in Gin Lane depicts the full range of social miseries which he implies are attendant upon the proletariate's frequent consumption of powerful, cheap spirits (in contrast to the benefits of the modest consumption of beer) through visual hyperbole, Cruikshank's criticism of the gin palace is far more subtle, and cannot be fully appreciated unless one reads the text realized. It is entirely likely that Phiz, Dickens's chief illustrator, is referencing The Cruikshank study of a liquor emporium in the more benign public-house of the August 1849 David Copperfield Chapter 11 serial illustration My magnificent order at the public-house, but certainly the implication of all of these illustrations, like that of Fred Barnard's 1876 Household Edition wood-engraving A Gin-shop, is that children were exposed early and often to a multitude of vices through their parents' frequenting places where alcohol was freely sold.
Dickens's point was precisely the insignificance of his characters. His Londoners are constantly overwhelmed by their environment; things are endowed with more importance, vitality, and permanence than people. Miller has described the various ways in which Cruikshank reinforces the point visually by surrounding his diminutive figures with outsized background objects — often one on each side — whose stability seems more a threat than a comfort. Arches (S, VII, facing p. 84; S, XIX, facing p. 160), pediments (OP, IV, facing p. 22), light fixtures (S, V, facing p. 70; S, XII, facing p. 118; C, VI, facing p. 240), fireplace hoods (S, IV; 66), orchestra shells and organs (S, XIV, facing p. 126), and gin barrels (S, XXII, facing p. 182) menace some and minimize all. — Jane Rabb Cohen, p. 18.
Whereas Fred Barnard in the 1876 Household Edition wood-engraving shows only the lower portions of the enormous barrels in order to focus the reader's attention on the celebrants, in particular the ragged child in the lower left quadrant of A Gin-Shop, Cruikshank uses a long-shot to contrast the size of the drinkers and that of the four barrels. Particularly poignant is the unknowing child who looks up wonderingly (if we may judge from his posture, for the artist does not show his face) at the well-dressed young woman pouring the gin. Under the watchful eye of the proprietor in the fur hat (extreme right) assignations are arranged and fisticuffs break out under the tremendous influence of the cheap spirit. The swell in white breeches and top-hat (centre) is the young man whom Dickens describes as flattering the bar-maid. The old washerwomen (down left) are to the left of the bar, as in the text, if the viewer is not standing behind the bar, so that the author's and illustrator's point-of-view is outside the magic circle of imbibers as they dispassionately render every detail for posterity.
As Frederic G. Kitton notes, Cruikshank had to re-engrave this illustration for the Chapman and Hall serialisation, and the subsequent 1839 anthology:
During the following year (1837) Macrone published a Second Series of the "Sketches" in one volume, uniform in size and character with its predecessors, and containing ten etchings by Cruikshank; for the second edition of this extra volume two additional illustrations were done, viz., "The Last Cab-Driver" and "May-day in the Evening." It was at this time that Dickens repurchased from Macrone the entire copyright of the "Sketches," and arranged with Chapman & Hall for a complete edition, to be issued in shilling monthly parts, octavo size, the first number appearing in November of that year. The completed work contained all the Cruikshank plates (except that entitled "The Free and Easy," which, for some unexplained reason, was cancelled) and the following [twelve] new subjects: "The Parish Engine," "The Broker's Man," "Our Next-door Neighbours" [sic], "Early Coaches," "Public Dinners," "The Gin-Shop," "Making a Night of It," "The Boarding-House," "The Tuggses at Ramsgate," "The Steam Excursion," "Mrs. Joseph Porter," and "Mr. Watkins Tottle." — "George Cruikshank, p. 4.
The Relevant Illustration from The Household Edition (1876)
Above: Fred Barnard's realistic wood-engraving of an actual gin shop as described in the Boz sketch, presenting a much rowdier atmosphere, The Gin Shop. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens: A Biography. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990.
Bentley, Nicholas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens: Index. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.
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.
Dickens, Charles. "Scenes," Chapter 22, "Gin-Shops." Sketches by Boz. Illustrated by George Cruikshank. London: Chapman and Hall, 1839; rpt. 1890. Pp. 134-138.
Dickens, Charles. "Scenes," Chapter 22, "Gin-Shops." Sketches by Boz. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1876. Pp. 85-88.
Dickens, Charles. "Scenes," Chapter 22, "Gin-Shops." Sketches by Boz. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 1. Pp. 172-177.
Hawksley, Lucinda Dickens. Chapter 3, "Sketches by Boz." Dickens Bicentenary 1812-2012: Charles Dickens. San Rafael, California: Insight, 2011. Pp. 12-15.
Kitton, Frederic G. "George Cruikshank." Dickens and His Illustrators. London: Chapman & Hall,1899. Rpt. Honolulu: U. Press of the Pacific, 2004. Pp.1-28.
Slater, Michael. Charles Dickens: A Life Defined by Writing. New Haven and London: Yale U. P., 2009.
Last modified 8 April 2017