Nov 152021

The Colonial Williamsburg site contains an interesting example of ‘The Comical Hotch-Potch – or, the Alphabet Turn’d Posture-Master.’

Some interesting detail about the print is given on the Jennie MacDonald site, which describes the alphabet as follows:

“On “The Comical Hotch-Potch” print, the twenty-four letters are illustrated by two images in each compartment: a small Roman type letter in the top left corner identifies the larger version of each letter formed by the contorted body of a boy or young man in the center of the compartment. The small letters are taken from Bowles’s standard Roman alphabet and rendered in outline form. Below each pair of letters two lines of verse occupy their own compartment, which adds three shallow rows of small type to the three visually commanding rows. Some of the verses demonstrate the use of the letter in a word, sometimes in several words, such as the one for the letter B: “By a bright thought / To a B he is brought.” Others indicate how to pronounce the letter without providing any examples of use, such as the one for the letter G: “Look forward you’ll see, / He’s in form of a G.” With their wide, ruffled clown-like collars; their mostly genial faces; and, in the colored version of the print, their brightly tinted jackets and trousers, the “letter-men (or boys),” to use Crain’s term (108), offer a jolly spectacle. Below the alphabet is the title “The Comical Hotch-Potch, or the Alphabet turn’d Posture-Master,” which is “Printed for & Sold by Carington Bowles, at No 69 in St. Pauls Church Yard, London.” The centered and italicized text tells the viewer what to do: “Do but see this Comic Set / Of Fellows form the Alphabet.” At the bottom of the sheet is the requisite notice, “Publish’d as the Act decrees 30 Sepr 1782.”

What I found intriguing was the omission of the two letters ‘J’ and ‘V’ – ‘ J’ because it was not considered independent of ‘I’ and ‘U’ because it was an adjunct of ‘V”. An added twist was that actually the ‘U’ is shown as a ‘V’ (i.e. with straight sides coming to a point). Arguments had raged for some time as to whether  ‘J’ and ‘V’ were letters in their own right – and even Dr Johnson was of the view that  there were only 24 letters in the alphabet. In his 1775 Dictionary  Johnson placed any word beginning with a ‘J’ under ‘I’ and with ‘V’ under ‘U’.  How uery iolly!

Strangely enough, Carington Bowles, who published the print in 1782, produced a slightly different illustrated alphabet a few years later – and this time he included a ‘V’ but omitted the ‘U’ – but the ‘J’ was still nowhere to be seen. It is definitely a ‘V’ in its own right – because the verse explains that ‘Valiant am I at V to try’.  It can be found on Wikimedia Commons and is entitled “The Man of Letters or Pierrot’s Alphabet’.

Obviously the matter was of some importance to printers, who needed to know what letters were needed in order to complete printed material accurately – and indeed Bowles had included both ‘missing letters’ in 1775 when he had brought out a catalogue of  print alphabets and numbers, in both Roman and Italic versions. It was advertised as “being with figures, double letters, and the most useful dipthongs in the modern taste; designed chiefly for the use of Painters, Engravers, Carvers, Grave-Stone Cutters, Masons, Plumbers, and other Artificers, likewise very useful for merchants and tradesmen’s clerks”. (I confess I haven’t seen the original catalogue – but I gather it is held by the Bodleian Library). It took another couple of decades before  the 25th and 26th letters were definitively added to alphabet: by the time Webster’s Dictionary came out in 1828 the argument was over. ‘J’ and ‘V’ were officially recognized and accepted in their own right.

Nov 082021

OK, another Carington Bowles print, but this one based on a painting by Robert Dighton rather than by John Collet. It is generally just given the title of  ‘A Comical Case’ but as an alternative this verse is sometimes added, giving an explanation of what is going on:

“How Merrily We live that Doctor’s be

We Humbug the Public and Pocket the Fee”

It appears on the British Museum site with this explanation: “Three doctors, grinning with satisfaction, stand in conference in an apothecary’s shop. One (left), very corpulent, his spectacles pushed up on his forehead, holds a bottle labelled ‘The Draughts as before Mr Costive’. His vis-à-vis stands chapeau-bras, holding a cane. Both wear old-fashioned dress with tie-wigs. The third, standing behind and between them is more fashionably dressed. On the counter (right) is a pestle and mortar, pill-box, and medicine phials, one labelled ‘going to rest’. Behind it are shelves on which are glass jars of varying sizes containing coloured liquids.”

To show how differently these things seem without the colouring, here is a monochrome version on the Colonial Williamsburg site:

Sorry that a hi-def version isn’t available – but even it isn’t particularly  clear it is a fascinating depiction of the interior of an apothecary’s shop, as well as indicating the generally prevailing view that all medics were  greedy con.merchants. I think that the facial characteristics of the three doctors are particularly interesting – and of course their fine clothing.

Robert Dighton led a remarkable life. He was a well-regarded portrait painter and print-maker who developed a close working relationship with Carington Bowles. In time he opened his own print shop, selling  his own works – plus a few which were ‘liberated’ from the British Museum. Unfortunately  one of the works was bought by an art dealer called Samuel Woodburn, who then took his purchase to the British Museum to compare it with the original. Only of course, the original had disappeared…. Dighton confessed that he had pinched it but came clean, and no charges were brought against him. He lay low by working in Oxford and Bath for a few years before returning to London. He died in 1814 having founded a whole dynasty of artists and the name of ‘Dighton ‘remained popular in artistic circles throughout the nineteenth century.

Nov 012021

Maybe you have noticed a theme: coloured mezzotints published by Carington Bowles  and based on original paintings by John Collet. This one is The Victim, and as before I am showing two differently coloured versions. First up, the one held by the Museum at Colonial Williamsburg:

Compare and contrast with the one held by the British Museum.

Initially I had read into this that the young girl has already ‘lost her virtue’ and this has come to the attention of the housekeeper, who has dragged her before the elderly employer. Victim she may have been, but she is about to be given her marching orders…..

Then I read the helpful British Museum explanation:

“An elderly man seated in an arm-chair, in night-cap and dressing-gown, a crutch by his side, holds by the wrist a young girl, who is being brought to him by a stout woman. The girl holds a handkerchief to her eyes; she is gaily and meretriciously dressed.
A monkey (left) holds a cat; a dog sits on a chair (right); a cat plays with a glove which hangs from the chair. On the wall (right) is a framed picture of a sheep about to be sacrificed before an altar. On the ground are books: on the “Art of Love” (left) stands a bottle of “Viper Wine”. A large volume (left) is labelled ‘Rochester’, indicating that it contains the works of the rake, Rochester (d. 1680). On it is an open book inscribed:
“This Bud of Beauty, other Years demands,
Nor should be gather’d by such wither’d hands.”

From this it is clear: the ‘withered hands’ are the ones which are about to take away the girl’s virtue. She has been dragged into the room by a procuress so that he can have his wicked way with her. In a sense it is simply a continuation of the initial plate of Hogarth’s The Harlot’s Progress, shown below, where the  innocent young girl, up from the country, is met by Mother Needham. The bawd is intent on procuring the girl for the pleasure of the loathsome Colonel Charteris, shown in the doorway ‘playing pocket billiards’. The young innocent is about to become a victim, but hasn’t yet realized that she is in peril…. The image is on the British Museum site.


The Victim is simply showing what happens next – the monkey holding the cat, the sacrificial lamb – both signify that the girl is about to be raped. The elderly man holds in his right hand a beaded purse, presumably so that he can pay the woman for her assistance. Not a picture you might want to have hanging on your living room wall….