Charles Dickens at 200

Dickens' first illustrator: George Cruikshank

Omnibus cover

Omnibus Skating Party illustration

[Click images to enlarge]

The English artist George Cruikshank (1792-1878) was primarily a caricaturist and illustrator. He was the preeminent Victorian practitioner of graphic satire in the tradition of William Hogarth. Cruikshank illustrated nearly 900 works and is well known as an early illustrator of Charles Dickens' books. Publisher John Macrone first paired Dickens and Cruikshank, who was twenty years older than Dickens, for Sketches by Boz, but Cruikshank is better known for illustrating Oliver Twist.

Cruikshank's own publications are well represented in Smith's rare book collection. His Omnibus, printed by the prominent London firm of Bradbury and Evans, was a collection of droll stories and images. In No. VII, November 1841, "The Artificial Floor for Skating" describes, tongue-in-cheek, the newest trend in parlor entertainment in England:

In America they are boasting the construction of a railroad to convey ice to Charlestown, for the supply of the West Indies! Very well; but that is real ice. England has done something more; she has established her independence of winter. She can do without frost altogether, and yet go on skating all the year round. She has discovered more than Parry did at the Pole; she has found out -- Artificial Ice!

This hyperbole is accompanied by Cruikshank's images of "A Skaiting Party" and "A Skaiting Academy."

The front cover of all issues of the Omnibus features the Latin motto De omnibus rebus et quibusdam aliis (About all things and something more besides). Cruikshank's humor begins on the cover with a play on the word omnibus, which means both a long motor vehicle for passengers (a bus) and a printed anthology of the works of one author.

This copy of the Omnibus was once owned by American composer Jerome Kern. Known best for the musical Show Boat, Kern was an avid collector of rare books. Apparently overwhelmed by the responsibilities of ownership, he sold his collection in January 1929 for nearly $2 million dollars.

George Cruikshank's Omnibus
London: Tilt & Bogue, May 1841-January 1842. Nine parts


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