The Pillars of the State, Satirical Snuff Box, c.1756

“It is necessary to be well acquainted with the disposition of a free, proud, fickle and violent people, before one can conceive of the indignation occasioned by this intelligence… The Admiral was burned in effigy in all the great towns; his seat and park in Hertfordshire were assaulted by the mob, and with great difficulty saved. The streets and shops swarmed with injurious ballads, libels, and prints, in some of which was mingled a little justice on the Ministers” – Horace Walpole, Memoirs of the Reign of King George the Second. [1]

The British public greeted the news of Admiral Sir John Byng’s defeat at the Battle of Minorca on 20th May 1756 with shocked disbelief. In the years leading up to the outbreak of the Seven Years War, they had been relentlessly fed on a diet of chauvinistic political rhetoric in which Britain’s naval power was frequently identified as the most tangible aspect of her superiority to other nations. Britons had nothing to fear from the prospect of war with France and should scorn the idea of forming alliances with other European nations, an anonymous pamphleteer assured his readers. “Great Britain, being an island… has no need of foreign assistance… if we carry on the war wholly by sea and have nothing to do with the Continent, we shall have everything to hope and nothing to fear.” William Pitt the Elder delivered a similar message to the House of Commons, demanding that the government “break these fetters which chained us, like Prometheus, to that barren rock” (i.e. Europe) and strike out to pursue a naval and colonial war against France. “Sea War, no Continent, no subsidy, is almost the universal language” the Prime Minister, the Duke of Newcastle, concluded wearily after another such debate. However, those with a firmer grasp on the reality of Britain’s political and military situation in 1756 were far less sanguine in their assessment. After surveying the dilapidated state of the defences of Gibraltar, Lord James Tyrawley wrote that he feared that the course of international events was being steered by the “natural prejudices” of “English coffee-house politician[s]” who believe “that Gibraltar is the strongest town in the world, that one Englishman can beat one Frenchman, and that London Bridge is one of the seven wonders of the world.” [2]

As the shock of Minorca reverberated through the nation, popular opinion turned to the question of who was to blame. Fearing that the public’s gaze would eventually settle upon himself, the Duke of Newcastle ensured that defeat was seen as being the responsibility of Byng and Byng alone. Walpole recalled that “the impression against Mr. Byng was no sooner taken, than every art and incident that could inflame it were industriously used and adopted.” The government published exerts of the Admiral’s own account of the battle which were discreetly edited to convey a tone of satisfaction that was guaranteed to further inflame public opinion against him. “They descended even to advertise in the Gazette, that orders were sent to every port to arrest Admiral Byng, in case he should not have been met by Sir Edward Hawke [who had been dispatched to arrest him]. All the little attorneys on the Circuit contributed to blow up the flame against the Admiral, at the same time directing its light from the original criminals.” The “original criminals” were of course the Duke of Newcastle and his ally Henry Fox, whose pre-war programme of spending cuts had resulted in Byng taking command of a squadron in which half the ships were in a state of disrepair and all were undermanned. Byng was court-martialled and executed in relatively short order, not as Voltaire famously quipped “pour encourager les autres”, but in the hope that further debate about the failings leading up to the loss of Minorca could be quietly laid to rest alongside him. [3]

The government was unsuccessful in entirely deflecting blame for the crisis away from itself and the mood of the country provided fertile ground for caricaturists. Pamphlets, ballads and satirical prints attacking Newcastle and Fox were produced in large numbers. “A new species of this manufacture now first appeared, invented by George Townshend: they were caricatures on cards. The original one, which had amazing vent, was of Newcastle and Fox, looking at each other, and crying, with Peachum, in the Beggar’s Opera, ‘Brother, brother, we are both in the wrong’.” Townshend’s caricature was also used to decorate other items, such as this enamelled snuff box which was manufactured in Birmingham sometime during 1756. It’s not difficult to see why objects like this were popular; hitherto satirical prints had been relatively large and delicate items that had to be viewed indoors. The simplicity of Townshend’s caricatures and the portability of these new mediums gave graphic satire a new sense of sociability. Humorous images could now be carried into society and enjoyed with one’s friends. Townshend’s association with this particular image possibly also lent it a degree of respectability that meant it was construed as being particularly ‘safe’ to share in polite company. That may explain why this particular image was chosen for use in decorating a more expensive item like a snuff box. [4]

One aspect of this object that’s particularly charming is the spelling mistake in the scroll at the top of the item. In the original print it reads “Gallus So Near”, in reference to the sympathies which Newcastle and Fox are accused of harbouring towards the French. However, the craftsman responsible for copying the design onto the box lid clearly had no clue what “Gallus” meant (it’s the Latin word for rooster, the animal commonly associated with France in English satires of this period) and has mistakenly engraved it as “Galtus So Near”, thus rendering the phase nonsensical.

  1. Horace Walpole, Memoirs of the Reign of King George the Second, vol. 2, 2nd ed., London, 1847, p. 218.
  2. All quoted in Brendan Simms, Three Victories and a Defeat, The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire, 1714-1783, London, 2007), p. 398 & pp. 412 – 418.
  3. Walpole, p. 218 & 227.
  4. Ibid. p. 229.

C.J. Grant, 659 to 36!!, The Conservative Angel and The Society for the Suppression of Conservative Vice: Satirising Politics in the Provinces, 1835 – 37

The artist and engraver C.J. Grant was commissioned to produce prints attacking the Tory candidates standing for the constituency of Bury St Edmunds in the general elections of 1835 and 1837. Together these two prints possibly constitute the only surviving examples of a major metropolitan caricaturist commenting on provincial politics during this period. Of course, satirical prints had been published in relatively small numbers outside London since at least the mid-1700s, but these were produced by local artists and usually dealt with universal subjects – such as fashion, manners and occupations – that would appeal to people living beyond an immediate locale. Satires on local politics were simply too specific and the market for them too small to make the publication of such prints commercially viable. A handful of closely fought elections in the 1820s and 30s proved to the exception to this rule, with campaign funds being used to subsidise publishing costs and reduce the relevance of market forces. This was certainly the case here; the Radicals of Bury St Edmunds reached out to Grant to enlist his help in rendering their Tory opponents ridiculous and thus unelectable. [1]

The publication of both prints is credited to the members of “the Society for the Suppression of Conservative Vice”. No record of the Society survives and indeed the name may be a collective term for a looser conglomerate of Radical activists who subsidised the print’s production costs. Some of these individuals were no doubt the self-proclaimed “Lovers of Reform of Abuses” from which the publication line of the 1835 caricature informs us copies of the print could be purchased. The only individual named in the publication lines is that of Edward Birchinall (fl. 1838 – 1883), a printer and bookseller whose premises were located at 20 Churchgate Street, Bury St Edmunds. Nothing further is known of Edward but his father William Birchinall (1760 – 1827) preceded him in the trade and his name appears on earlier lists of provincial retailers selling copies of works by William Cobbett and Henry Hunt. [2] Edward therefore evidently inherited his father’s Radicalism as well as his business. Grant’s initials appear on both prints and the signature on the earlier of the two plates is followed by the word “London”, suggesting he did not leave the metropolis in order to carry out this commission. Grant must instead have been supplied with sketches or a written description of the individuals he was being asked to caricature by Birchinall or one of his Radical associates. Given the significant differences in the way some of the protagonists are depicted in the two plates, the latter seems more likely the former.   

We don’t know why the Radicals of Bury St Edmunds felt it necessary to go to the trouble and expense of hiring a caricaturist to attack their enemies? When seeking a rationale, one can only point to reports which state that the tone of political discourse within the town was – even by the standards of the day – considered to be particularly acrimonious. [3] The dispute centred around the relationship between the Radicals of the town and the small clique of Tories who dominated the Municipal Corporation. The Corporation was an unelected body responsible for administering civic government and setting and spending local taxes. It had been established by royal charter in the early 1600s and done little to modernist itself in the intervening two centuries. Membership was obtained at the invitation of setting council members and posts were held for life. This lack of accountability turned the Corporation into a cesspit of petty corruption, with civic funds being squandered on lavish dinners for councilmen and parish offices used as sinecures for their friends and family members. The Corporation also exploited its lawful right to appoint the town’s two Members of Parliament – a privilege that was not finally revoked until the introduction of the 1832 Reform Act – by selling the seats to the Earl of Jermyn and the Duke of Grafton. Unsurprisingly, this situation enraged the growing middle class of Bury St Edmunds, whose taxes funded this largesse and who began to gravitate towards the Radical movement during the course of the 1830s. [4]

The earlier of the two plates was published on 4th January 1835, just two days before the polls in Bury St Edmunds opened. The title 659 to 36!! Great Odds for the OAK Stake, refers to the shifting balance of power between the 36 unelected members of the Corporation and the 659 registered voters in the town. It also punningly refers to the Oakes family – a local banking dynasty who had dominated the Tory faction within Bury St Edmunds for generations – comparing the chances of a Tory victory to those of a longshot win at the Epsom Oaks horserace. Captain Orbell Oakes, a serving officer in the Royal Navy and aspiring Tory politician, pulls at a rope that has been tied to the scales and vainly attempts to correct the balance in the favour of wealth and privilege. The rotten oak tree in the background may be intended to represent his father, Orbell Oakes Snr, or grandfather, James Henry Oakes, both of whom were members of the Corporation. The eagle that hovers above the tree is likely a reference to Francis King Eagle, the Radical candidate for Bury St Edmunds. [5]  

A man crawls out of a giant cheese on the right and complains about receiving three votes in an unspecified poll of some kind. This may be an oblique reference to the election of a new parish guardian in the summer of 1834, in which one of the Tory nominees received only 3 votes out of over 400 that were available. [6] A corpulent man carrying the accoutrements of a pharmacist greets an emaciated undertaker in the corner of the plate below.  The pharmacist is Abraham Gall who was a longstanding and prominent Corporation member, while the undertaker may be Major-General Sir Charles Broke Vere. Broke Vere was standing for the Tories in the county constituency of East Suffolk (which included Bury St Edmunds). As his title suggests, he was an army officer rather than an undertaker, but Grant habitually depicted army officers in the derogatory guise of butchers or undertakers. Alderman Edward Mower appears to the left and is caricatured as a down-at-heel agricultural labourer in reference to his surname.

Three more figures are shown on the left of the plate. Richard Dalton is “Turn Again Dick” a two-faced figure brandishing papers bearing contradictory views on the need for political reform. Dalton was an enthusiastic supporter of the campaign to secure parliamentary reform during the early 1830s and had delivered a stirring speech on the subject at Stowmarket in 1830 which was still remembered years later (a copy of which he holds in his hand). However, once a suitably moderate version of reform was achieved in 1832, Dalton converted to Toryism and began arguing against extension of the franchise to include the working classes. [7] The corpulent figure to his left is John Boldero. He was a poultry farmer and liquor merchant who also sat on the Corporation and served as a magistrate. Several months after this print was published Boldero, Abraham Gall and another Alderman named John Deck were fined £5 in a civil lawsuit brought by a business rival who claimed that the Boldero had abused his powers in order to prevent him selling liquor at the county fair. [8] John Deck is depicted above Boldero. Deck owned the local auction house and is shown selling off the Corporation to the highest bidder, a reference to allegations of bribes being paid to several electoral officials by agents of Earl Jermyn. [9]

The second prints was published without a specific date or title, although it’s often catalogued as The Conservative Angel in reference to the label applied to the uppermost figure. Boldero once again appears on the extreme left of the design, this time being carried by John Deck whose likeness is notably different from that of the first plate. Robert Bevan, a banker and business partner of the Oakes family, dances to their right. Bevan sat on the Central Committee of the West Suffolk Conservative Association and held the office of Sheriff of Bury St Edmunds. A dissenter and a Radical in his youth, Bevan cast off his reforming principles in later life and was dubbed “Jumping Jim Crow” by his former associates. [10] Fredrick Nunn, another Conservative Association member and local sheep farmer appear to the right and is depicted as an ovine nun at prayer. [11] The members of the Bury St Edmunds Municipal Corporation are being plunged into an abyss above Nunn’s head. The Corporation had been abolished by Act of Parliament in August 1835 and replaced with an elected local council in which the Whigs and Radicals held a majority. Whig councilman George Creed stands at the side of the pit and watches his predecessors’ departure with glee. Creed was a surgeon who held the dubious distinction of having removed the skin from a notorious murderer following execution and used it to bind a copy of a pamphlet detailing the man’s crimes. [12]

William Atmer, the landlord of The Angel Inn, flies along the top edge of the image. Atmer benefited heartily from his connection with the Tories, receiving generous contracts to supply food and drink for civic functions and Conservative Association dinners. [13] The printer Henry Gardener and a local tailor named Mr Andrews are caught in the “Conservative Rat Trap” beneath him. The former was married to the latter’s daughter and both were active in the Conservative Association but the specific reasons for their appearance in the print are unknown. The title of the book in Gardener’s hands – “Bridgewater’s Treatise £50” – refers to the recent by-election for the nearby constituency of Bridgewater in which the Tories were alleged to have engaged in the widespread bribery of voters. [14]

The banker and Conservative Association member George Browne sits at the bottom of the plate. He holds a leg of mutton and eats a pair of boots. The mutton refers to a trivial spat between the Radicals and the Tories over the question of whose political club was the oldest. The Radicals dismissed Tory claims to precedence by arguing that the Conservative Association had started life as a mere dining club and mockingly referred to the Tories as “the Mutton Club” thereafter. [15] Patrick Macintyre was the Secretary of the Association at the time of the print’s publication. He appears to Nunn’s right and is depicted in a manner which is typical of anti-Scottish satires of the mid-eighteenth century. Heavily inebriated and dressed in tartan, Macintyre leans against a scratching post to relieve himself from the effects of an infestation of fleas. He drunkenly proposes a toast to the Duke of Argyll, which is possibly an inaccurate reference to John Stuart, the 3rd Earl of Bute (1713 – 1793), who was both the first Scot and the first Tory to hold the office of Prime Minister following the Act of Union in 1707. Bute was a nephew of the 2nd Duke of Argyll but was not connected with the family politically. Indeed the Argylls had long been Whigs, with the 5th Duke holding a minor office in the Cabinet of Lord Melbourne. 

Abraham Gall snoozes in a chair in the far right corner of the image. Gall had been ousted from office when the Municipal Corporation was abolished by Act of Parliament in 1835 but had peevishly refused to hand over the official insignia and plate to the new town council until forced to do so be writ of court. He is shown dreaming of the hearty dinners he had enjoyed at the Corporation’s expense and these are represented by the gaggle of animals that surrounds him. [16]

The three vignettes that fill the upper right corner of the plate are the difficult to decipher. “Don Diego De Carle_os lie-ing in state” is presumably another attack on Major-General Sir Charles Broke Vere, who is now depicted as a Spanish conquistador and accused of lying to the electorate in some way. The fish emerging from “The Pond of Corruption” are two local Conservative activists whose surnames were Gudgeon and Haddock but the specific nature of their role in the election is unclear. Haddock owned a pawnbroker’s shop and it is presumably the door of his premises which the Whig and Tory candidates are shown entering with their election pledges hanging from their back pockets. [17]

I would welcome any further insight that readers may be able to offer on the characters and events depicted in either of these two prints.



  1. For example, the Alnwick election of 1826 and the Northumberland county elections of 1832 resulted in the publication of caricatures supporting both the Whig-Radical and Tory candidates.
  2. H. Hunt, Correspondence; consisting chiefly of Letters and Addresses on the subject of Radical Reform, (London, 1820), p. 48. Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register, vol. 57 no. 13, 25th March 1826, p. 25.
  3. An editorial in the Suffolk Chronicle, 9th July 1831, p. 4, lamented that “a spirit of the bitterest party feeling” prevailed throughout the county and this continued in the years following the introduction of the Reform Act. Charles Dickens, then a young reporter with The Morning Chronicle newspaper, visited Bury St Edmunds in January 1835 to cover the elections. The events he witnessed are thought to have given birth to the fictional town of Eatanswill which appears in the early chapters of The Pickwick Papers (1836). Eatanswill is a town riven by perpetual petty feuding between the supporters of ‘the Blues’ (Tories) and ‘the Buffs’ (Whigs).
  4. For general background on politics in the town see Proceedings at the Election of two Burgesses for the Borough of Bury St. Edmund’s, (Bury St Edmunds, 1835) and
  5. The Bury Radicals attacked Captain Oakes for drawing a salary from the Corporation while he was abroad serving with the Navy. See Bury and Norwich Post, 1st July 1835, p. 3.For commentary on the relative merits of Francis King Eagle and other members of the Oakes family, see Speech delivered at the nomination of candidates in Bury St Edmunds, (Bury St Edmunds, 1835) p. 6.
  6. Suffolk Chronicle, 30th August 1834, p. 4. The candidate’s name is given as “Mr Howe”.
  7. One Radical described Dalton as “A Gentleman whose political… opinions have assumed the colours of a harlequin’s vest, professing from Radical to Whig-Radical, and from Conservative to Ultra-Tory… The party who thrust him forward, must have been influenced by some sinister motives.” The Suffolk Chronicle, 27th June 1835, p.3.
  8. The plaintiff’s statement included sarcastic references to Boldero’s weight that caused laughter in the public gallery. The Suffolk Chronicle, 1st August 1835.
  9. The allegations of bribery on the part of the Tories continued to circulate for several months after the election. Bury & Norwick Post, 13th May 1835, p.2.
  10. Suffolk Chronicle, 29th April 1837, p. 4.
  11.  A list of the Association’s committee members can be found in Ibid, 22nd July 1837, p. 3.
  12.  The book, along with remnants of the condemned man’s scalp and ear survive to this day:
  13. For an account of a gathering of the West Suffolk Conservative Association’s committee at the Angel Inn, see Suffolk Chronicle, 22nd July 1837, p. 3.
  14. Notice of the wedding appeared in the Bury and Norwich Post, 23rd August 1837, p. 4. Allegations of Tory bribery in the Bridgewater by-election can be found in the Ipswich Journal, 27th May 1837, p.5.
  15. Bury and Norwich Post, 14th January 1835, p 4., Suffolk Chronicle, 17th June 1835, p4 and 27th May 1837, p. 3.
  16. “The old corporation was substantially in debt and the last Alderman, Abraham Gall, (1835-36) actually refused to hand over the insignia and plate to the new Council. Gall wanted to sell the assets to pay off the old corporation’s debts. Eventually a judgement was obtained to enforce this transfer.”
  17. Haddock’s name appears in the Suffolk Chronicle, 22nd April 1837, p. 3. The article also mentions that he accompanied F.G. Calthorpe, Early Jermyn’s Tory running mate, on his canvas of the town. R. Gudgeon helped to organise an illumination that the Bury Tories staged to celebrate the coronation of William IV in 1831. Bury and Norwich Post, 14th September 1831, p. 3.

Newton’s Dances of Death!

If the printseller William Holland was still abed at six o’clock in the morning on Friday 27th May 1796, then he may well have been woken by the sounds of commotion on the street outside. A few hundred yards from Holland’s shop, close to the spot where the porticoed entrance to the Pantheon ballroom jutted out above the pavement of London’s Oxford Street, a fight was breaking out. The unlikely instigator of this early morning street brawl was a young clergyman. His would-be opponent was a somewhat bemused coachman, who had been driving a cart of Oxford Street when he saw the carriage ahead of him pull over and a post-boy leap down to ask directions of a pedestrian. Seconds later the clergyman leapt from the back of the carriage and began beating the boy viciously as he admonished him for his poor sense of direction. The spectacle prompted cries of censure from several bystanders, including the coachman, who pulled up in order to remonstrate with the vicar for his mistreatment of the child.

The man in question was the Reverend Lord Frederick Townshend, son of the Marquis of Townshend who was a distinguished military leader, former Viceroy of Ireland and amateur caricaturist. And unfortunately the coachman now found himself on the receiving end of his lordship’s rage. Townshend cursed the coachman, accusing him of concealing the whereabouts of the Bishop of Bristol’s London residence in order to keep him from an important meeting. The coachman protested that he’d never met the Bishop but this only drove the young clergyman to further paroxysms of rage. Flinging his coat to the ground and tearing his waistcoat and shirt off, the Reverend Lord demanded that the coachman step down from his wagon to fight. Sensing that the young curate had lost his mind, the coachman declined the offer, upon which Townshend gathered up his belongings and sauntered off down Oxford Street as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

A few seconds of silence may have hung over the small crowd of spectators as all eyes followed Townshend’s retreating form, but this was broken suddenly by the sound of a cry. One of the onlookers had taken the liberty of peering through the window of his carriage and saw a blood soaked body sitting within. The corpse was that of Lord Charles Townshend, the Reverend Lord Frederick’s brother and at 27 years old the newly elected MP for Great Yarmouth. The pair had been returning to London together after campaigning to secure Charles’s victory in a by-election. The back of Charles’s skull had been blown open, showering the interior of the carriage with blood, bone and brains. His mouth lolled open on his chest, revealing a second gunshot wound that had discharged a torrent of blood over his clothes. A surgeon would later concluded that the presence of two wounds and the lack of damage to the victim’s teeth indicated that a pistol loaded with two balls had been placed in his mouth before being fired. The post-boy admitted to having seen Lord Frederick throw a gun from the carriage an hour before they arrived in London but confessed that he hadn’t dared stop to ask the reason for this. A number of people now took off in pursuit of Frederick Townshend. Overtaking him at the junction of Swallow Street, they escorted him to the Marlborough Street Police Office where he was placed in custody. Townshend was later declared insane. The reasons for the murder remained a mystery but the press generally attributed it rumours that Townshend repeatedly indulged in heavy bouts of drinking whilst on the campaign trail with his brother and that this had left his mind in a disordered state by the time they left Yarmouth early that morning.

Of course we do not know whether William Holland actually witnessed this incident but it was certainly in keeping with the theme of a series of prints he published a little over a month later. Newton’s Dances of Death! consists of 24 small caricatures in which Death unexpectedly appears to strike down his victims. As the name implies, the images were the work of the young caricaturist Richard Newton (1777 – 1798), who would be visited by the Grim Reaper himself only two years later. Holland was responsible for adding text to the images (as was his habit). However, the text is absent from the version shown here. This suggests that this plate is either a test pressing of some kind, produced to check the engraving of the image before text was added to the plate, or that the text was added retrospectively in order to add interest to the design at a later date. Exerts from the edition published with text can be found in the BM collection. Surviving examples appear to be quite scarce.

Although representations of The Dance of Death date back to the early medieval period, Newton’s images owe more to Hans Holbein the Younger’s 1538 version in which Death has a well developed sense of irony and often dispatches his victims with an ironic quip. In one of Holbein’s engravings, Death sneaks up behind a judge, who is ignoring a poor man to help a rich one, and snaps his staff, the symbol of his power, in two. A chain around Death’s neck suggests he is taking revenge on corrupt judges on behalf of those they have wrongfully imprisoned. In contrast, Death seems to come to the aid of the poor ploughman, by driving his horses for him and releasing him from a life of toil; the glowing church in the background implying that this humble but virtuous man is on his way to heaven. Newton’s caricatures continue in a similar vein; with a miser, a greedy parson and a grave robber being amongst those whom the Grim Reaper is shown laying claim to. Although the images are perhaps difficult for modern viewers to relate to – few today would regard the prospect of infant mortality as a subject for humour – they reflect the cultural mores of a time in which premature death was a feature of everyday life and seems to have been dealt with in a much more matter of fact way.


Derby Mercury, 2nd July 1796

Jemmy Whittle, the Devil, St Dunstan and the Laughing Boy

The Laughing Boy c.1780

The name James Whittle (1757 – 1818) will no doubt be familiar to readers of The Printshop Window. Whittle and his partner Robert Laurie (1755-1836) co-owned one of eighteenth-century London’s most well-known printshops. Laurie and Whittle inherited their business from Robert Sayer (1725 – 1794) but it origins could be traced back to a member of the Overton family, a dynasty of publishers that had sold books and prints in the city since the early sixteenth-century. Their shop at 53 Fleet Street must therefore have been regarded as an established feature of London’s topography; a reassuring beacon of continuity in a city that was hurtling towards modernity with growing rapidity. 

The radical publisher William Hone (1780 – 1842) certainly looked back on his youthful forays into Laurie & Whittle’s with a glow of nostalgia. In 1827, he included the following anecdote in the second volume of his Every-Day Book (1827):

At Laurie & Whittle’s printshop “nearly opposite St Dunstan’s Church, Fleet-street”, or rather at Jemmy Whittle’s, for he was the manager of the concern – I cannot help calling him “Jemmy”, for I knew him afterwards in a passing way when everybody called him Jemmy; and after his recollection failed and he dared no longer flash his merriment at The Cock at Temple Bar and The Black Jack in Portugal-street, but stood, like a sign of himself, at his own door, unable to remember the names of his old friends, they called him “poor Jemmy!”

I say,  remember at Jemmy Whittle’s there was always a change of prints in springtime. Jemmy liked, as he said, to “give the public something alive, fresh and clever, classical and correct!” One print, however, was never changed. This was “St Dunstan and the Devil“. To any who inquired why he always had “that old thing” in the window, and thought it would be better out, Jemmy answered, “No, no, my boy! That’s my sign – no change – church and state, you know! – no politics, you know! I hate politics! There’s the church, you know (pointing to St Dunstan’s), and here am I, my boy! It’s my sign, you! No change, my boy!

Alas, how changed: I desired to give a copy of the print on St Dunstan’s day in the first volume of The Every-Day Book, and it could not be found at “the old shop”*, nor at any printsellers I resorted to. 

Another print of Jemmy Whittle’s was a favourite with me as well as himself, for through every mutation of “dressing out” his window it maintained its place with St Dunstan. It was a mezzotinto called “The Laughing Boy”. During all seasons this print as exhibited “fresh and fresh”… I am now speaking of five and thirty years ago, when shop windows, especially printsellers’, were set out according to the season. I remember that in springtime Jemmy Whittle and Carrington Bowles in St Paul’s Churchyard, used to decorate their panes with twelve prints of flowers of “the months”, engraved after Baptiste*** and coloured “after nature” – a show almost, at that time, as gorgeous as “Solomon’s Temple in all its glory, all over nothing but gold and jewels”, which a man exhibited to my wondering eyes for a halfpenny. 

Although bits of this exert have been quoted in books about eighteenth-century caricature before, I took the liberty of reproducing almost all of it here as I think it raises a couple of interesting points. Firstly, there’s a nice bit of human interest in the fact that “poor Jemmy Whittle” clearly suffered some sort of cognitive decline in his final years that robbed him of his memory and left him “standing like a sign of himself” in the doorway of 53 Strand. One must assume that by this point the running of the business had been entirely handed over to Laure and / or Laurie’s son, who was to take on full responsibility for the shop after Whittle died in 1818. Whittle’s continued presence can be explained by his will, dated 1811, which indicates that he and his family lived in the same building as the printshop, as did Robert Laurie and his family and a number of their employees.

Secondly, while I was aware that Whittle eschewed political prints, the full quotation can be read in way that suggests Whittle was conservative rather than apolitical in his outlook. The decision to avoid publishing politics may therefore have had an implicitly political dimension to it. Hone was recalling the events of the mid-1790s, a time when the British government was locked in a literal and figurative war against French-inspired radical republicanism at home and abroad. The freedom of the press and public assembly were curbed in a deliberate effort to discourage ordinary men and women from engaging in political discourse. It’s hard not to see Whittle’s decision to avoid displaying political prints in his windows as endorsing this reactionary stance in some way. The remark “no change – church and state, you know! – no politics, you know!” certainly has echoes of the slogan “church and king forever” which was adopted as the rallying cry of the loyalist societies of this period. Whittle’s comment “no change” could certainly also be interpreted as having more than one meaning.

Finally, I didn’t know that printshops of this period were in the habit of changing their window displays in accordance with the season. It doesn’t come as a surprise, after all topicality was the lifeblood of the satirical print-trade and seasonal prints of the type Hone described could be wheeled out year after year without the need to invest in new designs. There is some circumstantial evidence that this practice extended to printshops with a more well developed connection to satirical publishing. Years ago I attempted to put all of S.W. Fores prints into a database to see if it was possible to analyse any trends in his patterns of publishing (a crazy idea – Fores published thousands of prints and I never got past the 1790s). One of the trends that did emerge from this rough and ready piece of data mining was the fact that Fores seems to have published large quantities of prints on 1st January each year. This makes sense when one remembers that a significant proportion of his business (possibly the most significant element) was taken up with the sale of stationary, which would include items like diaries, calendars and ledgers that would typically be purchased on or around the first day of the new year. A new window display of prints may therefore have been used as a lure to get customers into the shop to sell them stationary, or as a means of ‘upselling’ to customers who were mainly interested in buying a new diary or ledger for the year. This interesting historical titbit also makes one wonder if James Gillray’s famous ‘weather’ series was produced to give a seasonal flavour to Hannah Humphrey’s window displays?

* By the time Hone was writing Whittle was dead and Robert Laurie had retired, leaving the business shop in the hands of his son, Richard Holmes Laurie, who ran it until his death in 1858. Although copies of the Laughing Boy have survived, I’ve been unable to locate a copy of their version of The Devil and St Dunstan. One assumes it would have looked something like the woodcut version etched by George Cruikshank in the 1820s, which is linked in the article.

** The Laughing Boy was already at least twenty years old by the time Hone saw it in the mid-1790s. A copy of the print carrying Robert Sayer’s publication line can be found in the British Museum and it is listed in Sayer’s 1775 sales catalogue.

** The prints may have been taken from Bowles’s Florist (1777), an illustrated botanical encyclopedia “containing sixty plates of beautiful flowers, regularly disposed in their succession of blowing: to which is added an accurate description of their colours with instructions for drawing and painting them according to nature: being a new work intended for the use and amusement of gentlemen and ladies delighting in that art.”

*** Hone’s description suggests this was a raree show of some kind.

C.J. Grant’s Political Drama – An Online Talk

I’ll be giving a short talk about my book on the caricaturist C.J. Grant at 2pm (GMT) on 9th December 2020. The event will be hosted by the Working Class Movement Library as part of their series of online lectures for lockdown. 

The talks are free and open to everybody, so do feel free to pop along to say a virtual hello. You can go to the event page by clicking HERE. A registration link will be added to that page in the coming days (I’ll try and remember to add it here too) and registered guests will receive an email with a Zoom link shortly before the talk begins.