Gustave Doré, the second of the three children of Pierre Louis Christophe Doré, an engineer, and his wife, Alexandrine Marie Anne Pluchart, was born in Strasbourg on 6th January 1832. His biographer, David Kerr, has pointed out: "A child prodigy, Doré received little formal artistic training, but his talents as a draughtsman were already apparent during his school years."
Dore's first lithographic album was published by in Paris in 1847. He worked as a caricaturist until gaining fame as an illustrator in 1854 after working on a book by François Rabelais. Other commissions included work by Honoré de Balzac, Dante Alighieri, Miguel de Cervantes and John Milton. In 1863 he was asked to illustrate the works of Lord Byron. This was followed by other work for British publishers including a new illustrated Dore's English Bible (1865). According to Kerr: "The speed with which he drew was legendary and his output was as noteworthy for its quantity as for its quality."
Dore signed a five-year project with he publishers, Grant & Co, that involved him staying in London for three months a year. Dore was paid the vast sum of £10,000 a year for the proposed art work. The book, London: A Pilgrimage, with 180 engravings by Dore, was eventually published in 1872.
Although a commercial success, many of the critics disliked the book. Several were upset that Dore had appeared to concentrate on the poverty that existed in London. Gustave Dore was accused by the Art Journal of "inventing rather than copying". The Westminster Review claimed that " Dore gives us sketches in which the commonest, the vulgarest external features are set down".
That which most astonishes the watcher of the industries of the poor, is the fertility of invention that never slackens. In a low lodging house by Shadwell, which we entered late one Friday night, in the midst of the hurly-burly, herring-frying, gambling, and singing, a poor old man was making card-board railway carriages for sale in the streets. I remarked that this was something new.
"Yes, sir," he said, lifting the side of a carriage with his gummed pencil as he spoke - for he could not afford to lose a moment.
"Yes, sir: they won't look at stage-coaches now. Yer see, the young uns don't know them: so I've took to these here; and they takes them readily."
If we pass from the great markets to the small; from the West End shops to Phil's Gardens, by St. Mary Axe, and Petticoat Lane, and the New Cut, and Somers Town; we come upon begone communities, who are without knowledge or skill, and can consequently command only the lowest wage. Behold them keenly testing and examining the huge bunches of rags that are temptingly hung from old clothesmen's doors and windows; and how their eyes run along the rows of old boots and shoes upon the pavement. The eagerness of the vendors is as remarkable as the anxiety painted on the faces of the customers. This is a hard battle over every rag and trinket: and the noise of the strife is deafening.
The barrel organ is the opera of the street-folk: and Punch is their national comedy theatre. I cannot call to mind any scene on our many journeys through London that struck the authors of this pilgrimage more forcibly than the sound of the organ. The women leaning out of the windows - pleasurably stirred, for an instant, in that long disease, their life - and the children trooping and dancing round the swarthy player!
We dismiss our cab: it would be useless in the strange, dark byeways, to which we are bound: natives of which will look upon us as the Japanese looked upon us the first European travellers in the streets of Jeddo. The missionary, the parish doctor, the rent collector (who must be a bold man indeed), the policeman, the detective, and the humble undertaker, are the human beings from without who enter this weird and horrible Bluegate Fields.
We arrived at Whitechapel Police Station, to pick up the superintendent of savage London. He had some poor specimens - maundering drunk - in his cells already - and it was hardly nine o'clock.
We plunge into a maze of courts and narrow streets of low houses - nearly all the doors of which are open, showing kitchen fires blazing far in the interior, and strange figures moving about.
At dark corners, lurking men keep close to the wall; and the police smile when we wonder what would become of a lonely wanderer who should find himself in these regions unprotected. "He would be stripped to his shirt" was the candid answer - made while we threaded an extraordinary tangle of dark alleys where two men could just walk abreast, under the flickering lamps jutting from the ebon walls, to mark the corners.