Sketched by Humphrey, Spoiled by Gillray, 1781.

Living as we do in the post-deferential era of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, it’s perhaps hard for us to appreciate the comparatively confined sociability of our eighteenth-century forebears. This was a time in which personal relationships were heavily defined by considerations of class, kinship and commerce. Outsiders lacking an existing contact to provide them with an introduction to a particular club or group of people would find it extremely difficult to make new acquaintances on their own. The Yorkshire landowner Godfrey Boswell loved visiting London during the 1760s and had the time, money and inclination to visit its pleasure gardens, coffee shops and theatres, but bemoaned the fact that it was all

 …but a public life in appearance, for everybodys [sic] conversation is in a manner confined within the compass of a few particular acquaintance[s]. The Nobility hold themselves uncontaminated with the Commons. You seldom see a Lord and a private Gentleman together… An American that saw a Regiment of Footmen drawn up might think the officers and soldiers mighty sociable. Just so is the company [here], all together and all distinct. [1].

Satirical printshops were not only part of this world in the sense that they acted as venues for social interaction, they also helped reinforce it by allowing customers to design and publish prints exclusively for themselves and their friends. The husband and wife team Matthew and Mary Darly frequently advertised the fact that “Gentlemen and Ladies may have any Sketch or Fancy of their own, engraved, etched &c. with the utmost Despatch and Secrecy.” and frequently staged exhibitions in which the works of amateur satirists appeared alongside those of more professional artists. Similarly, Samuel Fores appended the notice “Gentlemens Designs Executed gratis” to his publication line during the early part of his career as a stationer and satirical printseller. [2].

The practice of vanity publishing has led to the survival of a number of prints that were clearly intended for a small market and which often relate to the sharing of a private joke amongst friends. A nice example of this can be found in this little known 1781 portrait study by James Gillray It was engraved after a drawing of the young William Lamb (later Lord Melbourne and Queen Victoria’s first Prime Minister) by George Humphrey. Gillray was evidently dissatisfied with his interpretation of the original image and paid to have it published by the printseller Robert Wilkinson (for whom he also engraved a handful of caricatures between 1779 and 1785). Below following note appears below the oval:

Sketch’d by Humphrey & Spoil’d by Gillray. Dedicated to all Lovers of your bold, Masterly Touches & Publish’d Novr. 1st. 1781 by J. Gillray to show the bad effect of Cobbling & Altering.  “Fool that I was, thus to Cobble my Shoe”

A second state also exists in which the image has been defaced with a series of scratches gouged into the copperplate. It’s not clear whether the two editions were published simultaneously – emphasising the supposedly disastrous consequences of Gillray’s excessive tinkering – or separately one after the other? It’s possible the scratched edition was published at a slightly later date and that the damage was added to the plate in order to make the joke obvious to those with even the most limited understanding of aesthetics and the art of engraving. Either way, it appears that enough copies of both states were published for editions to have survived in several public and institutional collections. [3].


  1. Papers of the Bosville-MacDonald family, Hull University Archives, DDBM/32/7-9.
  2. Public Advertiser, 28th September 1762. For Fores publication line see The natty, lad or Polish, dwarf taking an airing (1787), The girl in stile (1787), A fat buck of Hyde Park (1787).
  3. For the first state (undamaged) see National Portrait Gallery (NPG D12295) and The British Museum (BM Satires 5912). Copies of the second state (with scratches) can be found in The British Museum (BM 1851,0901.1343), the House of Lords Library (Gillray Collection, vol. 1, p.10) and the Blanton Museum of Art (Leo Steinberg Collection, 2002.1214).


G.M. Woodward, Symptoms of the Shop, 1801


George Murgatroyd Woodward was born in the parish of St Giles-in-the Fields in the spring of 1766. His father William was a successful surveyor who kept his offices in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. William regularly travelled throughout the country mapping the estates of great landowners and it was during one of these trips that he came to the attention of the second Earl of Stanhope. The Earl was so impressed with William’s work that he offered to make him his land agent, a post which effectively made the surveyor responsible for the day-to-day running of the Earl’s huge estate. The position came with a grace-and-favour home in Derbyshire and from 1775 until his death in 1817, William would reside in the village of Stanton-by-Dale. The family also retained a London residence, at No. 28 Carey Street in Holborn, for the purposes of allowing young George to complete his education in more civilised surroundings.

George’s teenage years were spent assisting his father in the management of the Stanhope family’s estates in Derbyshire, Buckinghamshire and Devon. It was a job he undertook competently but with little real enthusiasm, for George had discovered that he had a talent for making people laugh and harboured dreams that he might return to London and live on his wit. Perhaps against his better judgement, William was persuaded to allow his son to return to the great metropolis at the age of 18 and pursue a career in comedy. Bolstered by an allowance of £50 a year from his father, George immediately set about publishing his own caricatures from the house on Carey Street. These early prints led to commissions from two of the city’s leading satirical print-publishers, William Holland and Samuel Fores, both of whom were constantly on the lookout for artists capable of supplying them with ideas for fresh designs.

Woodward was an adequate artist but lacked the technical knowledge required to transfer his ideas onto copper plates for printing. However, his designs were evidently good enough to warrant the additional cost associated with pairing him up with a professional engraver and during the course of his career he would collaborate with the likes of Thomas Rowlandson, Isaac Cruikshank and Richard Newton. He also wrote well and contributed humorous poems, stories and essays to the magazines and journals of the day. In 1796 he brought the two strands of his career together in what became his most famous work – Eccentric Excursions, or Literary and Pictorial Sketches of the Countenance, Character and Country, in Different Parts of England and South Wales, which consisted of a series of humorous anecdotes decorated with a hundred engraved plates by Isaac Cruikshank.

Woodward pursued a successful career as a humorist for a period of around twenty years – the extent of his achievements being measured by the fact that he was one of the few caricaturists of the period whose name carried sufficient cache to make it worthy of mention in publisher’s advertisements [1]. But he derived little material benefit from the success, squandering what money he made on an ever increasing appetite for drink and louche sociability. By the mid-1800s he was effectively homeless, lodging in a room above the Southampton Arms in Chancery Lane when he had money and dossing down in the taproom of his favourite watering hole – The Brown Bear in Bow Street – when he did not. His health inevitably deteriorated and by the winter of 1809 he was suffering from dropsy. An obituary published in the Gentleman’s Magazine describes how he met his end:

He went to the Brown Bear public-house in Bow-street, in a coach, very unwell; and though he had no money, Mr Hazard the landlord, very humanely took him in, and paid the coachman, although he had no knowledge of him, except occasionally sleeping there. He also procured a doctor to attend him, and rendered him every possible assistance; but he survived only a short time, and died of dropsy. Mr Hazard had the corpse decently buried at his own expense [2].

However, it’s possible that even this tragic version of events was heavily sanitised in order to spare the blushes of his family. According to the socialite Henry Angelo, who was an acquaintance of Woodward’s, the caricaturist had been carousing in The Brown Bear – as was his habit – when he had died suddenly “with a glass of brandy in his hand.”[3]

William Woodward may well have gone to his grave ruing the day he agreed to allow George to go gallivanting back to London. His son’s debts would haunt the family for years to come,consuming almost the entirety of his father’s estate when the old man eventually died in 1817 [4].

G.M. Woodward’s story came to mind recently when I noticed that one of his original drawings was coming up for sale at auction. The image is a proof version of the sixth number of a series of twelve caricatures which were published under the collective title of Symptoms of the Shop by S.W. Fores in 1801. The prints themselves are quite rare, with The Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University being the only institution fortunate enough to have acquired a full set of coloured impressions, so its a real treat to see that at least one of the original sketches has also survived. Woodward presumably submitted his design to Fores and it was either the printseller himself or Francis Sansom – the engraver assigned to work with Woodward on the series – who was responsible for making a number of changes to the text in brown ink. These amendments highlight that satirical print-making was often (perhaps usually) a collective endeavour and that publishers (for a suspect the corrections were the work of Fores hand) exercised a degree of creative control that is frequently under-appreciated by those of us with an interest in these prints.


  1. For examples see The Star, 12th December 1801,  23rd September 1808, & 1st March 1809. With the exception of Gillray and Rowlandson, who appear to have succeeded in establishing themselves as artistic personalities in their own right, there are comparatively few examples of contemporary advertisements that identify the artist of a particular caricature. Even caricaturists whose names are now regarded as being synonymous with the ‘Golden Age of British Caricature’ – such as Isaac Cruikshank and Charles Williams – are rarely named in publishers advertisements. This is presumably due to the fact that caricatures were not regarded as serious art worthy of acknowledgement. It may also reflect a desire by printsellers to ensure that customer loyalty was built around their shop, rather than a particular artist who might easily take his talents elsewhere.

2. Gentlemen’s Magazine, 1st series 79, (December, 1809), p.1175.

3. H. Angelo, Reminiscences…, vol. 1, (London, 1827), p.432. Angelo was a close friend of Thomas Rowlandson who frequently collaborated with Woodward on caricatures.

4. M. Payne & J. Payne, Regarding Thomas Rowlandson 1757 – 1827, (London, 2010), pp. 213-214, 280.

C.J. Grant, Twelfth Night Characters, 1833

The 5th January marks the arrival of Twelfth Night and the end of Christmas. Although barely acknowledged today – other than by the dour reminder that today is the day on which we must take down our Christmas decorations in order to avoid a run of bad luck – for centuries Twelfth Night was actually regarded as the climax of the festive period, an occasion for feasting, drinking and raucous behaviour.

Things had calmed down a bit by the early nineteenth-century but Twelfth Night was still considered to be a time of parties and merry-making. Twelfth Night celebrations in the early 1800s were characterised by the consumption of a rich fruit cake (inventively dubbed the Twelfth Night Cake) and the playing of a parlour game entitled Twelfth Night Characters. Players of Twelfth Night Characters were invited to draw a piece of paper from a hat. The paper carried the image of a humorous character accompanied by a few lines of verse which the player was expected to read aloud in the manner of their character whilst other players tried to guess who they were imitating.  The game had become so ubiquitous by the turn of the nineteenth-century that printed sheets of Twelfth Night Characters were often sold alongside Twelfth Night Cakes in London’s bakeries and pastry shops. The author William Hone described these sheets of cheap, playing-card sized, caricatures as being “commonplace or gross” but considered them preferable to the more expensive versions that were peddled by the fashionable printshops of the West End, which he dismissed as “inane”. 

In December 1833 the caricaturist C.J. Grant used the familiar theme of Twelfth Night Characters as the basis for a political satire attacking members of the establishment. The print was issued as plate No. 31 in a sprawling series of woodcut-engraved political prints published under the collective title of The Political Drama between 1833 and 1836. Grant’s characters are: “King Blubberhead” (William IV), “Queen Addle-head” (Queen Adelaide), “Uncle Grab-all” (Lord Grey), “Chancellor Humbug” (Lord Brougham), “Paddy O’Killus” (Duke of Wellington), “Old Lawyer Bags” (Lord Eldon), “The Bishop of Bloatbelly” (a stereotypical Anglican bishop), “Ratcatcher Bob” (Sir Robert Peel), “Marchioness of Cunningham” (Lady Conyngham), “‘Fudge’ Hunt”, (Henry Hunt MP), Gaffer Gridiron” (William Cobbett), and “Our Queen Wot is to be” (Princess Victoria).

Grant was a supporter of the Radical movement which advocated democratic political, social and economic reform of the nation. Most of the individuals he caricatured were arch-conservatives who had been opposed even to the very limited extension of the electoral franchise introduced by the Reform Act of 1832 and the fact Grant chose to mock them requires little in the way of further explanation. What is perhaps more interesting is that he also pokes fun at some of his fellow reformers – namely William Cobbett and Henry Hunt. Both men belonged to an older generation of reform-minded politicians who had been regarded as Radicals in their youth but who were growing  uncomfortable with the movement’s drift towards democracy and a membership which was increasingly drawn from the ranks of the working classes. Younger Radicals like Grant and his associates showed little sympathy for the reformers of yesteryear, regarding them as vainglorious old men who were too fond of prevarication and half-measures. Both Hunt and Cobbett were duly mocked for their pretensions to elder statesman status and their unwillingness to wholeheartedly embrace the philosophies of their younger associates. It is in this division that we see the seeds of the factionalism which would eventually undermine the Radicals and their successors the Chartists in the fight to make Britain a more democratic nation. Democracy would come but at a pace that was largely dictated by the ruling classes and it was not finally secured until after the mass slaughter of the First World War.

I’m particularly fond of this print as it’s an unusual example of a caricature which has been produced with an overtly tactile purpose. It was designed to be handled, cut-up and played with. Transforming an innocuous and traditional festive pastime into an act of subversion by encouraging players to mimic and thus mock the mannerisms of the Royal Family and leading politicians of the day. Using entertainment and visual humour as a means of stealthily spreading the Radical credo. It’s also one of the rarer prints in the series, presumably because so many copies were cut into pieces, played with and then thrown away.

A picture of this caricature and the other 130 prints in The Political Drama will appear in an annotated catalogue to the series which I am hoping to publish later this year.

The Danger & Folly of Going to Law

There’s an old joke which goes something like this: “I hear scientists have recently started using lawyers as opposed to rats for scientific experiments. They do this for two reasons; One, the scientists become less attached to the lawyers. And two, there are certain things that even rats won’t do.”

As it turns out, making jokes at the expense of the legal profession is a pastime which has a fine historical pedigree. Satirical prints lampooning the supposedly self-serving nature of litigators had been published in London since the late seventeenth-century and by the closing decades of the eighteenth-century they were commonplace items in London’s printshops. The enduring popularity of these images was such that many of them remained in print until the early 1800s, with the most popular being used to decorate pottery and other manufactured goods.

Which leads us to this rather nice but sadly slightly damaged linen handkerchief. It probably dates to sometime during the latter half of the 1790s and is decorated with a medley of printed text and images. The centre oval contains an picture of a crowded courtroom with the defendant and the plaintiff sitting either side. Both men appear to have been reduced to a state of abject boredom by the proceedings and convey the impression that they have long-since ceased to care about the cause of the litigation. The text which appears at either side of this image is an extract of the humorous poem The Lawyer and Justice which appeared in Vicesimus Knox’s Elegant Extracts, or Useful and Entertaining Passages in Prose (1790). It tells the story of a lawyer who is visited by the spirit of justice and admonished for his money-grubbing ways. It was presumably based on an image that first appeared on paper, although I’ve been unable to locate any surviving copies of the original version in order to confirm this.

Another rhyme appears above and below the central cartouche. The six short verses of prose recount the tale of two men who are arguing over an oyster. They call on a lawyer to settle the dispute, which he does by opening the oyster, giving either man a shell and taking the meat as his fee. The story is illustrated by the now partially-lost picture in the bottom left corner of the handkerchief with the title A Sharp Between Two FlatsThis a copy of one of a pair of mezzotints satirising the legal profession which were published by Carington Bowles in 1791. It’s companion – A Flat Between Two Sharps – has been reproduced in the opposite corner of the handkerchief. And finally, the picture on the top right is a copy of an anonymous satire entitled Consolation which was published by Laurie & Whittle in December 1795. It shows a lawyer attempting to console his bankrupt client with the news that whilst he may have been reduced to his last guinea, the man he has taken to court has been left with nothing more than a farthing.

This handkerchief was offered up for sale here in the UK last week. The auctioneer’s estimate was £200 – £300, which seemed reasonable to me (even allowing for the damage) but in the end it didn’t sell. So it’s possible that we may see this item surface again at some point in the near future.

Sutton Nicholls, The Compleat Auctioneer, c.1720


We make a rare foray into the world of early eighteenth-century graphic satire for this post on an engraving by Sutton Nicholls which has popped up at auction recently.

Nicholls was active in the London print trade from 1687 until his death in 1729, operating from a variety of premises centred in and around Aldersgate Street in the City of London. He began his career as an engraver of maps and globes but the scope of his work eventually expanded to include topography, portraiture, various forms of printed ephemera (such as tickets and medley prints) and satire. On a business card dating to c.1720, he described himself as an engraver of “all sorts of Pictures viz. History, Perspective, Architect, Gardening & Landskip [sic] & c. Maps, Sea-Charts, Mathematical Schemes, Writing Flourish’d Pieces, Shop-bills, Tobacco-marks &c. He also cuts on Wood or Metal for Book-printers or Book-sellers, Seals, Stamps & Plate.”

The Compleat Auctioneer is a satire on the then still comparatively recent phenomenon of book auctions. The  first book auction took place in England in 1676 and they subsequently became a popular means of buying and selling books. The practice of offering second hand books for sale at a reduced price inevitably attracted snobbish criticism from conventional booksellers and aristocratic bibliophiles, who regarded the auctioneers as hawkers who devalued the monetary and cultural value of everything they touched. The scientist Robert Hook was horrified to find books by Robert Boyle being offered for sale at an auction in Moorfields, regarding it as an insult to the works of his great friend and patron. Moorfields itself was to acquire a reputation as the home of printers, publishers and booksellers operating at the bottom end of the market and its lack of status amongst serious book-collectors is reflected in the fact that Hooke barely makes a single reference to the area in his otherwise extensive notes on the London book trade in this period [1].

A book auctioneer is shown standing behind a stall of books with a small crowd of customers gathered about him. Behind him is a tree in which a sign has been hung that reads: “A Choice Collection of Books being the Library of the late famous Unborn Doctor, are to be put to Sale this Day and to continue untill [sic] all be Sold, at Mr L-GS Auction in the North West Corner of Middle Moorfields. Cattalogues [sic] may be had at most of the eminent Booksellers in the four Quarters of Moorfeilds [sic] Gratis, the Books may be Seen before or at the time of Sale” Two columns of text beneath the image on either side of the title mimic the auctioneer’s sales pitch, mocking him and his parvenu clientele: “Come Sirs, and view this famous Library, ‘Tis pity Learning shou’d discourag’d be: Here’s Bookes (that is, if they were but well Sold), I will maintain’t are worth their weight in Gold. Then bid apace, and break me out of hand: Ne’re cry you don’t the Subject understand: For this I’ll say – howe’er the Case may hit, Whoever buys of me – I teach ’em Wit.”

The titles of some of the books are visible and the British Museum’s Online Catalogue identifies a number of them as being genuine contemporary works with which Nicholls customers would presumably have been familiar.


  1. E.L. Furdell,  Publishing and Medicine in Early Modern England, (New York, 2002) p. 119.