Anon., A specimen of Light Horsemanship, 26th December 1795. Published by S.W. Fores. Note the artist originally misspelled the word ‘horsemanship’ and was forced to amend the original engraving to include the ‘e’.
This print may be a recent edition to the Print Shop Window’s own secret stash of Georgian caricatures but it’s rapidly becoming a personal favourite. It’s one of the few caricature prints whose humour has not diminished during the last two hundred years and it never fails to bring a smile to my face.
The title is an ironic reference to the frantic dash which Prime Minister William Pitt is making for the safety of the fortified gates of the Treasury building to the left. An angry mob follows hot on his heels, pulling his horse’s tail and pelting him with mud, stones and the carcasses of several unfortunate animals. His terrified mount bears an uncanny resemblance to the white horse which appeared at the centre of the King’s coat-of-arms and it’s flight is being spurred on by the presence of the vicious-looking bulldog, wearing a collar labelled ‘John Bull’, that snaps at its hind quarters.
It is one of a number of satirical attacks which were published in the wake of the passage of the so-called Gagging Acts in late 1795. The Acts were intended to counter the threat of English Jacobinism by stamping out political societies and seriously curtailing civil liberties. They marked a depressing end point to a year which had been characterised by recession, harvest failures, widespread rioting and a series of reversals in the war against France. By the time the Acts were passed into law on the 18th December 1795, Pitt could not venture out onto the streets of London without being booed, hissed and greeted with cries of “Peace and Bread”, “No Pitt” and “No King”.
This design appears to have been intended as a prequel to A Recent Escape (detail right) which Fores had published just five days earlier, on the 21st December 1795. This print shows a confrontation between Pitt and the Whig leader Charles James Fox which takes place moments after the Prime Minister has escaped the clutches of the furious London mob. He stands arrayed in his mud-spattered riding gear and exclaims “These are the Blessed effects of Your Patriotism, & be D—— to you”, to the evident amusement of his chuckling opponent.