Friday, October 8, 2021

George Cruikshank, Illustrations to "Guy Fawkes"

George Cruikshank (1792-1878) was an English engraver who earned most of his living doing satirical illustrations for newspapers and magazines, which have aged about as well as you would expect. But when I was at the British Museum web site looking up John Dee's obsidian mirror, I was tempted by a button that promised me all of the museum's other holdings that relate to Dee. Unable to control myself, I clicked. The most interesting thing that turned up was this engraving by Cruikshank, titled, "Dr. Dee checks the pulse of Guy Fawkes while his assistant John Kelly looks on." What?

This turned out to be an illustration for an 1840 novel, titled Guy Fawkes, by a certain William Ainsworth. This forgotten tale, of which E.A. Poe said that the style was "turgid pretension," mixed up the actual story of the Gunpowder Plot with a lot of supernatural stuff in which John Dee figures prominently. Here Fawkes lays a trail of gunpower to the barrels beneath the Houses of Parliament.

Something about these illustrations grabbed me, so I hunted down several more. Here "Guy Fawkes and Humphrey Chetham appear from a secret room to rescue Father Oldcorne and Viviana Radcliffe from a pursuivant." 

Guy Fawkes falls asleep at Saint Winifrid's Well and Winifrid herself appears to him in a dream. This one reminds me of Edward Gorey.

Dee summons spirits to answer Fawkes' questions. They told him the plot was doomed and he would be killed, but he went ahead anyway.

Kelly and Dee exhume a body for necromantic purposes while Fawkes looks on.

Fawkes' arrest.

And Fawkes mounting the scaffold.

Plus a self portrait Cruikshank drew on the back of a handbill in 1858

No comments: