George Cruikshank

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The Demon Alcohol - George Cruikshank's Campaign to Ban Alcohol

The Bottle

In his earlier life, George Cruikshank had been a very heavy drinker but he could not ignore the effects of alcohol on his own family: his father Isaac and brother Robert both were alcoholics; his father died of alcohol intoxication after winning a drinking context. As a result Cruikshank turned against alcohol and, in his later years, became a teetotaler and began preaching against the evil of alcohols. He lent his considerable artistic talents to focusing public attention on the evils created by alcohol abuse such as broken families, domestic violence and indolence. Some things never change.

Cruikshank's ultimate aim was complete Prohibition. He allied himself with the Temperance League, and organization dedicated to banning the sale and consumption of all alcohol in England. Cruikshank became a zeaslous propagandist for the temperance movement, producing hundreds of caricatures and drawings in which he ridiculed the behavior of drinkers and brought attention to the social evils created by alcohol abuse. In 1856, Cruikshank was recognized for his efforts by being appointed president of the Temperance League.

In this day and age, especially after the diastrous social experiment of prohibition, it is easy to see Cruikhank's attitudes as out dated and unreasonable. However alcohol abuse in England at the time was much worse than it now (hard to believe!), with thousands of people consuming cheap and basically toxic gin to the point that the poor of London were deeply afflicted by alcoholism and families suffered. This suffering was particularly acute given that there was no social safety net. The only help that a family in need due to the bread winner becoming unfit to work due to drink was to go into the poorhouse or debtor's prison.

The Bottle - A Victorian Era Graphic Novel

One of the more interesting pieces of propagranda produced by George Cruikshank in his campaign in favour of abolishing alcohol was a short illustrated booklet called The Bottle which documents the ills visited upon a family due to the father's drinking. It is interesting both as as social artefact but also as what appears to be an early form of graphic novel.

The Bottle, a Victorian Melodrama

His main contribution to the movement were a series of illustrations to various anti-alcohol propaganda, including a series of 8 drawings for a fairly pedantic play called The Bottle, in which a drunken husband beats his wife, terrorizes his children, and loses everything before hitting rock bottom and rejecting the demon which is alcohol.

The first illustration shows a man with a young family, and what looks to be a comfortable home. He has a wife, and young children, including one who is still a baby. The man is drinking at the kitchen table, waving the evil bottle of alcohol in the air. His wife is pleading him to stop but he ignores her nagging.

The Bottle - The Evils of Alcohol

Soon the effects of the man's drinking can be felt. The man sits by the fire drinking and ignores his family.

The Alcoholic Ignores His Family

The man's drinking leads to financial ruin. The family is seen cowering in the corner while creditors take away all of their possessions.

Financial Ruin for the Alcoholic

As a result of the man's love affair with the bottle, his wife and young daughter are forced to beg on the street - or perhaps even worse.

The Bottle - Begging on the Street

The husband and the wife argue constantly over the husband's income and they come to blows. The drunkard strikes his wife in front of his terrified children, who try to stop him.

Domestic Violence

The commotion draws crowds of neighbours who enter the apartment to find the poor wife on the floor where she has been felled by her drunken brute of a husband.

The Bottle - The Alcoholic Beats His Wife

It's game over for the husband. The bottle has ruined his life. We seem him in jail visited by his children. This is the fate that awaits inside every bottle of gin and cheap whiskey.

The Bottle - Rock Bottom