THE STORY OF ONE OF THE MOST NOTORIOUS ENGLISH CRIMINALS, “A LEGEND,” WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY GEORGE CRUIKSHANK AND AN AUTOGRAPH LETTER FROM THE AUTHOR
(CRUIKSHANK, George). AINSWORTH, William Harrison. Jack Sheppard. A Romance. London: Richard Bentley, 1839. Three volumes. Octavo, original green cloth, uncut. $1200.
First edition, with over two dozen etchings by Cruikshank, with an autograph letter bound into volume I from Ainsworth to the publisher inviting him to dine and mentioning Charles Dickens.
Jack Sheppard was a brilliant, violent thief who gained a great deal of notoriety during his brief career in London. "He became a legend in his own lifetime and has remained one ever since… [according to] contemporary literature and legal reports [he was] a personality of enormous charm, wit and courage whose vitality inspired widespread devotion and admiration. Nonetheless, a facile and strangely warped intelligence made of Jack Sheppard an extraordinarily successful thief and gaolbreaker. His appeal as a popular hero was such that when he was to be hanged at Tyburn at the age of twenty-two, upwards of 200,000 people gathered to cheer him along the way, hoping, vainly this time, that he would again make one of his spectacular escapes." (The Road to Tyburn). "Books and pamphlets were written about him; a pantomime at Drury Lane, called Harlequin Sheppard, was based on the story of his adventures, and so was a three-act farce, called The Prison-Breaker. Dozens of songs and glees referred to his prowess, and clergymen preached sermons about him. Sir James Thornhill, the celebrated painter who decorated the dome of St Paul's Cathedral, painted his portrait, from which engravings in mezzotinto were made" (The Complete Newgate Calendar). In addition, Hogarth's series of twelve engravings, Industry and Idleness (1747), Gay's The Beggar's Opera (1728), W.T. Moncrieff's Jack Sheppard the House-breaker (1825), the movie Where's Jack (1969), the Thieves' Opera (1999), and the movie Jack Sheppard and Jonathan Wild (2001) were all at least partly inspired by his career. Ainsworth's novel was adapted as a successful play in the same year in which it was first published. "Cruikshank was at his best as an interpretive illustrator in books that permitted him to exercise his talent for comic exaggeration without distorting the author's intent," leading him to be considered "one of the most productive and individualistic of English illustrators" (Hodnett, 114). See Cohn 12-13. Sadlier 14. Bound into volume I is a letter, with "to Bentley" [his publisher] written at the top in an unknown hand, reading: Saturday morning. My dear Sir, Will you dine with me today at six o'clock?—I expect Mr. Dickens, Mr. Maclise and some other friends. I shall be in Adelaide Street about quarter past 12 prior to going to Mr. Maclise, and I will thank you to be in the way, as I have something to say to you. —- —— W. Harrison Ainsworth." "Mr. Maclise" is Daniel Maclise, an English painter and illustrator who illustrated a number of works by Dickens and became good friends with Dickens. Bookplates, including those of Lucius Wilmerding, a noted book collector and president of the Grolier Society.
Interior with only infrequent faint foxing, front inner paper hinge of Volume I expertly reinforced; original cloth in excellent condition with only a bit of soiling to boards of Volume II. An exceptional copy.