George Cruikshank’s Pop-gun

George Cruikshank (1792–1878) was one of the most inventive and talented graphic satirists of his time. As a boy in London, he learned printmaking from his father, Isaac Cruikshank; after Isaac died in 1811, the family was supported entirely by George’s drawings. His political and social caricatures entertained and piqued the British public, and when he died, he was one of England’s best known and most prolific artists, having designed as many as twelve thousand prints.

The Princeton University Library’s George Cruikshank Collection consists of 35 boxes of Cruikshank’s personal papers, correspondence, and original drawings, including some two dozen bound sketch books. The most recent addition to the collection is a manuscript in Cruikshank’s hand, heavily corrected and signed by him in six places. The manuscript is a draft of a pamphlet Cruikshank would publish in 1860 titled A Pop-gun Fired Off by George Cruikshank: In Defence of the British Volunteers of 1803, expressing support for civilian volunteers in the face of a French invasion of Great Britain. The manuscript includes nineteen colored and pen-and-ink sketches, which differ from those published in A Pop-gun.

In A Pop-gun, Cruikshank recalls his first participation in a volunteer militia at age 11. When Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) declared war on Britain in 1803, George Cruikshank’s father Isaac joined a volunteer troop while George and his brother drilled with toy weapons. The manuscript draft offers further details: “In our Bloomsbury corp,” he writes, “we had to find our own uniforms with the help of the mamas—and our own arms and accoutrements—my Brother made himself a pasteboard cocked hat and a youth who was apprenticed to a coach builder made him a saber of wood…and I had a pasteboard cap and the Regiment having punched some small gun stocks, we had moss sticks—or Broom handles—fixed in these, and Black leaded to imitate the polished steel.” His training as a boy, he argued in A Pop-gun, prepared him well to bear arms as an adult in defense of his country. At the bottom of this manuscript page, Cruikshank has included a colored sketch of soldiers in uniform.

The manuscript is accompanied by a scrap of paper in Cruikshank’s hand containing military maneuvers and diagrams, tipped into a booklet titled Our Rifle Volunteers, Sketched by “Quiz.” The booklet is an illustrated verse satire on the volunteer militia that also focuses on the volunteers’ attire, but to very different effect. On one page, the verse “Now don’t make a fool of yourself, strutting there,/With the limbs of an ape, and the head of a bear” is illustrated with a drawing of an artillery volunteer wearing a large, furry hat and a comical expression. If the author of this work was not Cruikshank, it may have been Edward Caswall (1814–1878), a Roman Catholic priest who also wrote humorous and satirical poetry under the pseudonym Scriblerus Redivivus. Cruikshank may have owned this booklet and used it for reference.

In 1859, British volunteer troops were formed again under the threat of another French invasion. Cruikshank joined the 48th Middlesex corps, eventually becoming its commanding officer; the George Cruikshank Collection contains other materials related to his career in the Middlesex corps. The collection complements the Graphic Arts Division’s holdings of over six hundred Cruikshank prints.

Additionally, scattered throughout the Manuscripts Department’s holdings is a wealth of works of art on paper by many British artists and illustrators, most of whom have a literary association: for example, George Du Maurier, Thomas Rowlandson, and J.M. Barrie. Worthy of special mention is the renowned Gallatin-Beardsley Collection, which includes 130 drawings by Aubrey Beardsley, collected by the American artist A.E. Gallatin, along with a rich archive of manuscripts, correspondence, posters, illustrated books, and other materials by or related to the 1890s English artist. The Department also holds artwork by other members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Ruskin, John Everett Millais, Simeon Solomon, Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Max Beerbohm, and Gwen John, whose watercolors were recently discovered in the Arthur Symons Papers.

George Cruikshank, undated manuscript draft of A Pop-gun. Man­u­scripts Divi­sion, Depart­ment of Rare Books and Spe­cial Col­lec­tions, Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity Library. Not to be repro­duced with­out the per­mis­sion of the Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity Library.
















Our Rifle Volunteers, sketched by "Quiz." Man­u­scripts Divi­sion, Depart­ment of Rare Books and Spe­cial Col­lec­tions, Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity Library. Not to be repro­duced with­out the per­mis­sion of the Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity Library.