A recent and highly anticipated addition to the collection at PsW headquarters is this incredibly rare copy of Good-Faith and Virtue…, a political satire on the war against revolutionary France, published in London in the summer of 1795. To describe this print as rare is not mere hyperbole; I have been unable to locate another copy of it any other catalogue or reference book on eighteenth-century prints. As such, this may well be the only surviving copy of this print left in the world.
It is unusual in a number of other respects too. Firstly, it’s slightly larger than normal single sheet caricature of this period, measuring 17.5 x 19 inches, as opposed to the more common 10 x 13 inch format. Secondly, the numbers which have been engraved next to the principle characters indicate that it would originally have been accompanied by a printed key, or a sheet of text which would have explained the meaning of the design. And thirdly, the publication line, “Mr J. White, Princess Square, London, No. 4, June 17th 1795” does not appear on any other surviving prints from the eighteenth or nineteenth-centuries.
So what are we to make of all this? Well, the most obvious interpretation is that this was a speculative publishing project embarked upon by someone who was not otherwise involved in the satirical printselling trade. Everything about this print, from its size to the quality of the colouring, suggests that it would have been an expensive print to produce. The absolute scarcity of surviving copies presumably indicates that the finished print did not sell well and may have prompted the publisher to abandon further attempts at printselling, which would explain why there are no other known examples of this publication line. It may even have been a one-off test-pressing for a print which was never actually brought to market, perhaps because the publisher balked at the production costs and decided not to proceed with printing.
Identifying the publisher has been problematic for a couple of reasons. Most obviously because the absence of other other material carrying the same publication line means that we have nothing to help verify his identity or location. More baffling still is the fact that there does not appear to have been a Princess Square in London prior to the construction of the Bayswater area in middle of the nineteenth-century. We can therefore only assume that this was an error on the part of the engraver, something which was not entirely uncommon in situations where a jobbing engraver had been hired to etch a plate on a publisher’s behalf. James Aitken for example, a publisher of satirical prints who was also active in the 1790s, published at least two plates with an incorrect address on them between 1788 and 1790. The most likely explanation is that the publication line should have read ‘Princes Square’, as there were at least three locations with this name in London at the time: one near Lincoln’s Inn Fields, one off the Ratcliff Highway in the East End, and the other across the Thames in the suburb of Kennington.
As for Mr J. White, there are multiple people named J. White, John White, James White and Joseph White listed in the British Book Trade Index, but none operating from an address which bears even a passing similarity to Princes (or Princess) Square. The only reference I have been able to uncover which would allow us to triangulate (albeit it tenuously) the name J. White, with the print-trade and a Princes Square address, is a notice in the Gentlemen’s Magazine of January 1792 (p.88) which reads: “Married Jan 9, 1792, Mr. John White, bookseller, to Miss Frances Barker, both of Holborn.” Lincoln’s Inn Fields falls within the district of Holborn and according to J. Lockie’s Topography of London (1810) there was a Princes Square off Princes Street near Lincoln’s Inn. The address is not recorded on any contemporary maps, even Richard Horwood’s incredibly detailed London map of 1799, but that’s presumably because the ‘square’ was in reality little more than “a small recess on the Southside [of Princes Street] nearly op. New Turnstile” (a close-up of Horwood’s representation of the area can be seen on the right). So it’s possible that the J. White who published this print was a small-time bookseller, resident in Princes Square, Princes Street, Holborn during the 1790s.
The identity of the artist-engraver presents us with an even bigger mystery. I have spent several hours looking at pictures of prints listed in the British Museum catalogue to try and identify any similarities in design or engraving style which could form the basis of an attribution but I have consistently drawn a blank. There are elements of the design which appear familiar, particularly the central female figure, and I’ve wavered between attributions to two or three different caricaturists during the last few weeks. I must therefore raise the white flag and admit that it has not been possible to identify the artist. Nevertheless, it was clearly an artist-engraver of some considerable talent, as the print has been executed and finished to a standard which is easily equivalent to that of one issued by Hannah Humphrey, S.W. Fores or William Holland.
Despite the absence of the explanatory text which was originally sold alongside this picture, it’s meaning is relatively easy to decipher. It was published in the summer of 1795, at a time when the First Coalition was beginning to splinter in the face of the relentless advance of the French army. The year had opened with the occupation of Holland and the establishment of the Batavian Republic. This in turn had prompted the Prussians, whose territories in the Rhineland were now exposed to direct French attack, to break with the Coalition and sign a separate peace treaty with the French in April. By summer the defeated Spanish had also sued for peace, while Britain’s Austrian allies were demanding further subsidies to help them meet the renewed French threat to their Italian and German possessions.
The caricature is therefore a rather unsympathetic satire on the willingness of Britain’s European allies to throw in the towel and kowtow to the revolutionary junta that they had previously professed to despise. The figure on the far-left is that of a soldier who represents French military power, he hands a quill to the grotesquely caricatured Francis II who replies “you are my inducement to it”, as he prepares to put his signature to a peace treaty. The fat and equally ugly figure of Frederick William II is shown next to Francis, kneeling before the Goddess of Reason and preparing to kiss her extended foot. Charles IV of Spain stands next to Frederick, clutching him in terror. While a fourth figure, representing the former Dutch Republic, stoops to scoop up French money as he says “I will have my share”. The group are surrounded by the toppled emblems of Austria and Prussia and piles of discarded weaponry. Two representatives of the French Directorate stand on the far right, heavily laden with bags containing the reparations they have received from Britain’s defeated allies. The centre of the image is dominated by the awful figure of the revolutionary Goddess of Reason, who sits enthroned in her temple surrounded by emblems of revolution, deceit and war. The smoke of battle is beginning to drift across the scene, partially obscuring the blood-soaked guillotines that support the Temple of Reason. Finally, at the top right of the image, a distressed-looking angel of peace flies away, bearing an olive branch and a scroll reading “You did not deserve it.”
The image makes it abundantly clear that the the question posed in the title of the print – Good-Faith and Virtue could they be Disunited? – is purely rhetorical.
I’m currently offering this print for sale – click on link to the ‘Prints for Sale’ section at the top of this page for more details.