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The Romantic Illustration Network (RIN) restores to view the importance of book illustration and visual  culture in the Romantic period, but also across the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries. RIN brings together scholars working on poetry, prose, the printed book, visual culture, and painting from roughly 1750 – 1850 to share research and to develop new models for understanding the relationship between word and image in the period, between large and small scale work, and between painting, print and illustration.

RIN will foreground artists who have been unduly ignored, and return attention to well-known artists in unfamiliar roles. We aim to recapture lost cultures of looking and of reading, restoring the link between word and image not only in book illustration but in the wider literary and visual culture.

Our original programme of events took as starting points in turn the artist, the author, the gallery and the economics of print. We have produce an edited collection of essays and begun to expand the network as the basis for a longer research project. We have launched new partnerships, including with House of Illustration and the University of the Third Age. We are in conversation Tate Britain concerning research that will enhance the Tate’s collection of literary prints and paintings.

 

 

Recent Posts

Queen Caroline in Caricature – October 1820

Ian Haywood, University of Roehampton

Figure 1: Hand-coloured cover of The Queen’s Alphabet. Horrida Bella! Pains and Penalties versus Truth and Justice (October/November 1820). Published by George Humphrey, printed by William Benbow. Lewis Walpole Library. Author’s photograph.

In October 1820 the trial of Queen Caroline drew towards a close and the political tensions of the nation reached a fever pitch. For over two months, normal parliamentary business had been paralysed by the daily spectacle of Caroline’s procession to the House of Lords. As George IV and Prime Minister Lord Liverpool became increasingly nervous about the verdict, Caroline’s supporters grew ever more vocal. They massed in huge numbers outside parliament and made weekly journeys on foot to Caroline’s residence in west London where they would present Addresses from all corners of the kingdom (Figure 2). The ritualistic recitation of the Addresses and Caroline’s replies were acts of political theatre with roots in popular carnival, revolutionary fêtes, and the mass platform. This was the vox populi at its most resonant and effectual: it was a literal utterance which used high-minded constitutional discourse to demand social and political justice, and it was a sublime spectacle of deafening volume and collective force. The sheer din of popular protest contrasted strikingly with Caroline’s mute role in her trial,[1] and this disjunction redoubled the value of press reportage which recirculated and editorialized these direct exchanges between the queen and the people. This triangular communication-circuit (monarch-press-people) was at the core of the Georgian understanding of the political efficacy of public opinion. The free press was the guarantor of liberty as it provided a conduit of expression between the rulers and the ruled and, in theory at least, ensured mutual accountability.[2] But how did caricature fit into this model? The Caroline affair has been consistently celebrated as one of the first great triumphs of public opinion in British politics, but far less attention has been given to the contribution of visual satire to this achievement.

Figure 2. Addresses to Her Majesty Queen Caroline Presented at Brandenburgh House 30 Oct. 1820. British Museum.

To explore this issue further, we can turn to one of the more ambitious caricatures of this phase of the controversy: The Queen’s Alphabet. Horrida Bella! Pains and Penalties versus Truth and Justice. This satirical pamphlet was a cross between old and new styles. It clearly owed an allegiance to the format pioneered by William Hone and George Cruikshank, particularly in its parodying of a child’s primer, but it was twice the usual size, comprising 25 images across 51 pages. The use of copperplate engraving, rather than cheaper woodcuts, made it expensive, retailing at 2s 6d compared to the standard one shilling. This implies that it was designed to sell at the luxury end of the market for this new populist genre. Even though the printer was the radical William Benbow, the publisher was George Humphrey, nephew of Gillray’s Hannah Humphrey, and this pedigree may explain the decision to put some commercial distance between himself and Hone.[3] Although Horrida Bella! is avowedly pro-Caroline, there is a shift away from triumphal images of the queen towards more conventional, masculinist Whig ideals of heroic press freedom and statesmanship.[4] The cover design (Figure 1) shows Caroline’s lawyers Brougham and Denman symbolically slaying their government opponents Gifford and Copley with the legal weapons of Truth and Justice. The mock-epic slapstick is engaging but has an underlying gravitas which is buttressed by two allusions to Virgil’s Aeneid. The well-educated (assumed male) reader with a knowledge of the classics would recognise the epic’s opening sentence ‘Arma virumque cano’ (‘Arms and the man I sing’) and the title phrase ‘Horrida Bella’ (‘horrid wars’) which marks the moment when Aeneas is told by the sybil that he will have to fight to achieve greatness. The reader without this education could still be familiar with ‘Horrida Bella’ as it was a widely used catchphrase and had been incorporated into several earlier caricatures.[5]

This reassertion of male control over Caroline’s fate is also evident in the ensuing narrative. Caroline figures prominently in only three scenes, two of which rehash her wedding and her refusal of the government bribe. Most of the plates are focused on the very podgy king’s farcical antics, and this comic display is in stark contrast to the real George’s disappearance from public life during the course of the trial.[6] For the omniscient caricaturist, there were no safe hiding places, no invisibility, and no invincibility. George is made to perform his shameless and shameful shenanigans like a circus clown. Caricature was an iconoclastic medium, hijacking and repurposing the elevated symbols and imagery of power. But in order to influence public opinion, this radical aesthetic had to mesh with other cultural and political institutions. One of the ways caricature did this was hardwired into it: by reacting to topical news stories, it functioned like a phantasmagorical extension of the press.[7] But it also, intriguingly, built representations of freedom of expression into its narratives. In Horrida Bella! there are some vivid imaginings and idealizations of Georgian democracy in action. The absence of Caroline and female agency from most of these images exposes the entrenched gender conservatism of the public sphere, though many other caricatures did celebrate Caroline’s power and elevated her to a sublime symbol of liberty, truth and justice.[8]

Horrida Bella! draws on a range of satirical techniques. In addition to its use of bodily distortion (the root meaning of caricature) to demean and deflate the king, it deploys both naturalistic and fantasy modes in its alternative depiction of actual events. Taking realism first, some of its scenes seem at first glance like straightforward reportage. Figures 3 and 4, for example, show two facets of crowd power: intimidation and adulation. Figure 3 depicts the Duke of Wellington fleeing from his London home Apsley House as a gathering of angry protestors pelt him with brickbats. Wellington was indeed regularly booed when he arrived at the House of Lords, but the relocation of his unpopularity to Apsley House rubs salt into former national hero’s wounds. Apsley was acquired by Wellington from his older brother in 1817 and transformed into his London base during his honeymoon period after Waterloo. But this also made the house a convenient target for the radical protest, and Figure 3 captures powerfully the turning point in Wellington’s public reputation and celebrity (in later conflicts such as Reform Bill crisis, crowds would regularly break the windows of the house).[9] Nothing could be more humiliating for the ex-general than to be shown in retreat, and his equestrian flight parodies portraits of mounted conquerors and kings (most famously, perhaps, Napoleon, whose nude statue was a prize exhibit inside the house).[10] The barely visible line of soldiers inside Hyde Park hints at retaliation and eerily anticipates the tragic denouement of the Caroline affair in the summer of 1821. The canny reader-viewer would also know that just beyond the frame of the image was the site of the recently unveiled and much-ridiculed statue of Wellington as Achilles.[11] The text explains why Wellington deserves this mock-heroic deflation and charivari: he is one of ‘Tyranny’s Fags’.

Figure 3. ‘N’, from Horrida Bella! Lewis Walpole Library. Author’s photograph.

Figure 4, on the other hand, shows the majesty of the people and Her Majesty with the people. Again, the image seems to be unsullied reportage, a visualization of Caroline’s mobbed public appearances which had been a dominant feature of her story from the moment she reappeared on British soil. In fact, the image utilizes artistic conventions of spectacle pioneered by William Hogarth in The March to Finchley and other works, namely the presence of spectators within the scene (especially at upper storey windows, but also on the edges of the canvas), the motley assortment of assembled social types (here, importantly, both men and women are gesticulating and cheering, though the women retain their bonnets), and the immersion of the central figure within the crowd.[12] The deafening sound of acclamation which all press reports highlighted is registered in the open mouths of Caroline’s adoring fans, though here there are no speech bubbles (another unique feature of caricature) to reinforce this effect. The text reveals that V stands for ‘Virtue displayed’, and although this encomium refers primarily to Caroline, it also encompasses the moral agency of the crowd and even the elevated function of visual satire.

Figure 4. ‘V’, from Horrida Bella! Lewis Walpole Library. Author’s photograph.

While it was relatively easy for caricature to spectacularize the crowd by appropriating established visual tropes, the glorification of the press proved more of a challenge. There was limited satirical mileage in the material form of print culture, and even less scope for visualizing and dramatizing the internalized processes of reading. This explains why most caricatures appropriated the heraldic and allegorical devices which newspapers themselves used to elevate their mission. The most important of these symbols was the hand-operated printing press which embodied the ideals and heritage of press freedom.[13] This humble piece of technology retained its revolutionary symbolic value, particularly for radical movements, long after the introduction of steam-printing. This temporal disjunction is apparent in Horrida Bella!’s slightly awkward representation of the heroic press in Figure 5. The use of a naturalistic style means that other visual means have to be found to animate the power of the inert technology which dominates the scene, hence the reliance on human drama (the four cowering officials on the left), the oratorical posture of the printer (a cross between street crier, political agitator and Caroline devotee) and the large wall posters which display standard eulogies to press freedom and Carolinite propaganda. The incongruous choice of the Times (which was actually printed by steam press, unlike more radical newspapers which clung zealously to the hand-operated icon) would seem to accord with Humphrey’s cautious politics, but there is more to this tableau than meets the eye. Perhaps unintentionally, the framing of the stentorian printer by the pasted pages of the Times alludes to one of radical print culture’s most aesthetically impressive interventions into the Caroline campaign.

Figure 5. ‘P’, from Horrida Bella! Lewis Walpole Library. Author’s photograph.

On 11 October 1820, a deputation of 138 compositors and printers presented to Caroline an Address ‘From the Letter-Press Printers of London and its Environs’ with 1,345 signatures. As was usual, the Address and Caroline’s reply were published in full in the Times a few days later, and this is the report to which Horrida Bella! may be alluding. But this was only one step in the remarkable story of this particular Address. Caroline was tremendously popular with skilled workers, and the different trades pulled out all the stops to make their tributes distinctive and memorable. During October, the streets of London teemed with thousands of workers displaying their wares. The capital was transformed into an open-air gallery of radical artisanal beauty. Carpenters and bakers displayed decorative banners showing Caroline crowned by Fame and guarded by the British Lion, while glass workers sported superlative hand-finished glasswork including stars and medallions.[14] Not be outdone, the printers presented not one, but three increasingly sophisticated versions of their Address. The first version was engraved on parchment, probably to evoke the gravitas of official documents and parliamentary legislation. The second version was altogether more aesthetically pleasing, printed on white satin edged with white silk (an echo of Caroline’s penchant for dressing in white to emphasise her purity and virtue), and mounted on an ivory roller. The third version took the craft of the compositor to new heights by mounting the text in an elaborate mosaic frame comprising over 26,000 moveable pieces of metal. In December 1820[15] William Hone reproduced the third version as a print, bringing the whole reprographic process full circle, and making this impressive ‘Specimen of the Typographic Art’ available to the wider public (Figure 6). The design reworks familiar architectural and heraldic conventions but adds two significant features: Caroline’s radiant crown which caps the triumphal arch of Truth and Justice, and – even more importantly – the Stanhope printing press which adorns the massive, ornate pediment. This is a potent visual restatement of the Address’s sonorous appeal to ‘the irresistible force of public opinion, directed and displayed through the powerful medium of a FREE, UNCORRUPTED, AND INCORRUPTIBLE, BRITISH PRESS’.

Figure 6. William Hone, The Printer’s Address to the Queen (December 1820). Special Collections, Adelphi University. Author’s photograph.

Tracing the evolution of the Printers’ Address alongside Horrida Bella! shows us that the iconic symbol of the free press was at the forefront of the popular political imagination. The image of the hand-operated printing press privileged the labour of production over the more genteel skills of journalism and editing, and in this respect it could function as a symbol of popular sovereignty and the ‘incorruptible’ national character of the British people. Its staunch materiality and reassuring fixity provided an antidote to the bulging, fetid green bag of Old Corruption. Unsurprisingly, the emblem figured in many pro-Caroline caricatures, including Hone’s stunning transparency of her victory in November 1820 (to be considered in next month’s post). But what these satires reveal is that the sacrosanct printing press could only convey the full emancipatory force of freedom of expression though dramatic heightening and the assistance of other symbols or narratives of unfettered public opinion. A good example of this can be found in Horrida Bella! The pamphlet was published just days before the House of Lords verdict, and the air was thick with expectation. For Caroline’s supporters the legal outcome was morally and politically irrelevant, but in order to exert some last-minute pressure on public opinion, Horrida Bella! staged its own conclusion to the trial (Figure 7).

Figure 7. ‘Z’, from Horrida Bella! Lewis Walpole Library. Author’s photograph.

This scene goes way beyond the triumphal cover design and shows the Tory cabinet and their tainted Italian evidence being blasted out a giant green bag by the searing beam of the ‘Lens of Truth’. The comic violence mitigates the seditious imagery of a revolutionary overthrow – these victims of justice are, after all, ‘Zanies, in frantic despair/ Their bag of combustion blown into the air’ – but the more interesting aspect is the giant lens which substitutes for Caroline’s presence. Combining the traditional emblem of the Mirror of Truth with Enlightenment devices such as the divine eye and torch, all of which were widely used in caricatures,[16] the huge, autonomous magnifying glass stands for what Caroline, in her reply to the printers, calls the ‘accelerating power’ of the free press: ‘Public Opinion is the concentrated force of many enlightened minds, operating through the medium of THE PRESS. Hence the Public Sentiment has been directed, and the Public Feeling excited, till the People have risen up like one man, in vindication of my rights’. Truth may be ‘irresistible’, but ‘without some adventitious aid’ it ‘moves with a slow pace’. Once it is propelled by the press, however, it achieves more ‘in a day, than mere oral teaching could in a century’, and its power can even make the Holy Alliance ‘turn pale with dread’. These are stirring sentiments and the language is finely tuned for Caroline’s supporters, but the declamation still occludes the specifically visual agency of the ‘lens’ of Truth. Caricature literalizes the optical metaphors of enlightenment and political justice: as seen in Figure 6, what the Lens of Truth allows its audience to see is not in fact the ‘truth’ but a populist fantasy of retribution. Like a raree-show, the public is treated to an entertaining visual performance which riffs on the high-minded radical principles of free expression.

One further example from Horrida Bella! will demonstrate how visual satire ‘excited’ the popular political imagination through its unique animating power. The image for ‘S’ (Figure 8) shows George cowering before a radiant automaton made up almost entirely of slabs of the queen’s Addresses, except for the feet which are labelled ‘Feeling’ and ‘Sense’ and the head which is inscribed ‘Queen’. This comic robot is a parodic Frankenstein’s monster confronting its master with the fruits of his misdemeanours: ‘S, for the shaking he felt in his nerves,/ That told what a cowardly action deserves’. For the viewer, however, this is a delightful, pantomimic enactment of the return of the repressed. The emanation is a paper prodigy that connects the (true) monarch to ‘Public Sentiment’ through the material operations of print culture.[17] The juvenile theatricality is perfectly attuned to George’s ‘cowardly’ antics. Having refused to listen to the pleas of his wife and the people, he now faces a phantasmal archive of protest: as the text declares, ‘Vox Populi is now Vox Dei we know’. His nemesis is the allegorical figure of Caricature itself, and he is no match for its ‘irresistible’ blend of ‘fantasy, frivolity and rage’.[18] George started the ‘horrida bella’, and reaps the satirical whirlwind.

Figure 8. ‘Z’, from Horrida Bella! Lewis Walpole Library. Author’s photograph.

Ian Haywood and Cristina S. Martinez have curated an exhibition on the Queen Caroline affair for the Wilhelm Busch Museum of Caricature, Hannover, Germany. For further information, see the museum website: https://www.karikatur-museum.de/en/

[1] Thomas Creevey drew a comparison between the Wednesday processions to Brandenburgh House and the mass gathering at Peterloo: ‘the scene which caused such alarm at Manchester is repeated under the very nose of parliament and in a tenfold degree more alarming’ (cited in Jane Robins, Rebel Queen: How the Trial of Caroline Brought England to the Brink of Revolution (London: Simon and Schuster, 2006), 283).

[2] William Wickwar, The Struggle for the Freedom of the Press 1819-1832 (London: Allen and Unwin, 1928); J. Ann Hone, For the Cause of Truth: Radicalism in London 1796-1821 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 307-19; Kevin Gilmartin, Print Politics: The Press and Radical Opposition in Early Nineteenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), Chapters 1-2.

[3] Humphrey would later produce a string of anti-Caroline satirical prints as part of the loyalist counter-offensive of 1821. These will be looked at in future posts.

[4] See Tim Fulford, Romanticism and Masculinity: Gender, Politics and Poetics in the Writing of Burke, Coleridge, Cobbett, Wordsworth, De Quincey and Hazlitt (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999), 161-8.

[5] For example: William Dent, The City Champion, or the Guildhall Merry Uproar (6 October 1785; British Museum Satires 6813); James Gillray’s Effusions of a Pot of Porter; Or Ministerial Conjurations for Supporting the War (29 November 1799; British Museum Satires 9430).

[6] The satirist had a field day with this error of judgement on the king’s part. One response was a series of handbills offering a reward of £0, 000 (in other words, nothing) for the return of a missing ‘infirm elderly gentleman’ who has abused his wife and gone ‘astray’ (several examples are in the Special Collections at Adelphi University). This idea first originated as a mock advertisement at the end of Hone and Cruikshank’s pamphlet Non Mi Ricordo (September 1820)and it was an instant hit.

[7] For a fuller exploration of this, see my book Romanticism and Caricature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

[8] See previous posts for an exploration of this theme. In October 1820, a good example of the glorification of Caroline’s power is Queen Caroline: Britain’s Best Hope!! England’s Sheet-Anchor (John Fairburn, 29 October 1820; British Museum Satires Undescribed; Lewis Walpole Library).

[9] See Isobel Armstrong, Victorian Glassworlds: Glass Culture and the Imagination 1830-1880 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), Chapter 3.

[10] I refer of course to Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1801-5).

[11] See George Cruikshank, Making Decent —-!! (George Humphrey, 8 August 1822; British Museum Satires 14383).

[12] See Ronald Paulson, Hogarth. Volume 2: High Art and Low 1732-1750 (Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press, 1992), 357-82.

[13] Gilmartin, Print Politics, 24, 69-70.

[14] Times, 27 October 1820.

[15] The design was copied with slight variations for two additional Addresses from the printers: see BM 1868-8-8-13717 (18 December 1820) and BM 1868-8-8-13717 (29 May 1821).

[16] See, for example, The Triumph of Innocence over Perjury, Persecution and Ministerial Oppression (S. W. Fores, 5 November 2020; British Museum Satires 13974). This print will feature in the November 1820 post.

[17] A similar automaton consisting of an upright, radiant printing press with human legs can be found in Hone and Cruikshank’s The Political Showman – At Home! (1821). Its design may have been influenced by Horrida Bella!

[18] The phrase is used by Marcus Wood, Radical Satire and Print Culture 1790-1822 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 263.

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