You might have noticed that things have been rather quiet around here for the last year or two? There are a lot of reasons for this: I have a family and a job like many of you, but I’ve also been spending most of my spare time writing a book about the caricaturist C.J. Grant and I’m very pleased to announce that it’s now finished.
C.J. Grant’s Political Drama: Radicalism and Graphic Satire in the Age of Reform provides a detailed look at Grant’s life and his most significant work as a satirist – the substantial series of wood-engraved radical political satires that was published under the collective title of The Political Drama. For those of you who don’t know Grant, he was a caricaturist who briefly dominated the lower end of the market for humorous imagery in London during the latter half of the 1830s. His popularity was such that by 1838 the author William Makepeace Thackeray felt moved to complain that his “rude wood-cuts” adorned every cheap newspaper that one encountered on the streets of London. “…[A]lmost all [are] from the hand of the same artist”, Thackeray harrumphed, “Grant, by name. They are outrageous caricatures; squinting eyes, wooden legs, and pimpled noses, forming the chief points of fun.’ If the impression these images conveyed was to be believed…one would imagine that the aristocracy of the country were the most ignorant and ill-educated part of its population – the House of Lords an absolute assembly of ninnies – the Universities only seminaries where folly and vice are taught.’
The Political Drama set the tone of many of the prints that Grant was to produce during the latter part of his career and was to cement his longstanding association with the Radical movement and its demands for democratic reform. The image of late-Hanoverian England that leaps from the pages of The Political Drama is one of a society defined by its iniquities. In which the self-proclaimed elite shamelessly feather their nests at the expense of the public purse while the poor are left to fester in abject squalor. It is a world where politicians are corrupt, the king is a hen-pecked old fool, the Church is debased and the forces of law and order exist solely to protect the privileges of the powerful. Even John Bull, so often the doughty hero-figure of contemporary caricature, is a times vilified as a dupe and a dullard, the deserving victim of his own docility and excessive deference. This story is told in a series of visually impactful wood-engravings which borrow heavily from chapbooks and the lurid street literature of the day.
And yet The Political Drama, like much of Grant’s work, remains largely forgotten today. Complete editions of the series are rare and difficult to access, and images of most of the individual prints cannot be found online. C.J. Grant’s Political Drama: Radicalism and Graphic Satire in the Age of Reform aims to rectify this situation by providing a fully illustrated guide to The Political Drama as well as an overview of Grant’s life and career. The book includes a foreword by Professor Brian Maidment and images of each of the prints in the series, accompanied by an explanation of the individuals and events being satirised. By including photographs of all of the 131 prints in the series, it is my hope that the book will appeal to those with a general interest in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century caricature, as well as those with a particular interest in Grant or the politics of his era.
Thanks are owed both to the trustees of the Working Class Movement Library and Professor Brian Maidment for helping me with my work.