Jan 242022
 

It looks as though I have two books about to be published, which makes for a busy time in March. Pen & Sword are due to publish my book looking at the world of 18th Century harlots, and asking how they became the fashion arbiters of the Age.

It is likely that the original launch date will be set back a few weeks until March – originally it was intended for the end of January, but it now seems as if it will be a close race with a book being published by Shire Publications (part of the Bloomsbury Group) under the title of ‘The Grand Tour’.

I thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing about the Grand Tour because it underpins so many other aspects of Georgian life – the development of the English Country House, the explosion of interest in all-things-classical, the emergence of a British style of painting (via the Royal Academy) and the growth in collecting – be it sculptures, art, coins and medals or souvenirs. The good thing about this book is that it is heavily illustrated. Being lazy, a picture tells a thousand words so, with fifty or so illustrations, that is 50,000 words I didn’t have to bother to write! It was also a great excuse to delve into galleries and museums which were not going to charge an arm and a leg for the use of their images. Here are just three as a taster:

Piranesi’s amazingly detailed birds-eye view of the Colosseum, 1776.

(Metropolitan Museum, New York)

 

English visitors standing out like a sore thumb among Parisiennes in 1825.

(Lewis Walpole Library)

Detail from portrait of Mrs Abington as Miss Prue in’Love for Love’ by William Congreve, painted by Reynolds in 1771.

(Yale Center for British Art)

The Grand Tour is due out on 17th March and is available to pre-order on Amazon

It should be a busy time – lecturing at Colonial Williamsburg early in March, and then off on a trans-Atlantic cruise (giving eight talks) with those lovely people at Regent Seven Seas with their new and rather spectacular  ship ‘Splendor’.  Shame they couldn’t spell its name correctly, but there you go…

Dec 122021
 

In February I am privileged to be invited back to Colonial Williamsburg to give a talk to fit in with the theme of virtue and vice, as part of their week-long 74th Annual Antiques Forum. Their promotional material for the seminar features a coloured mezzotint by Robert Dighton, published by Carington Bowles, and dating from November 1784.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

The British Museum site describes the print with the following words:

‘A young woman stands within a compass inscribed ‘Fear God’, holding an open book inscribed ‘The Pleasures of Imagination Realized’. At her feet is an open chest full of guineas from which hang bank-notes and jewels; it is inscribed ‘The Reward of Virtue’. A small dog stands beside her. In the background (right) is a country house, on the left farm-buildings and haystacks.

The four corners are filled with the disasters which beset the woman who does not ‘keep within compass’.

(1) A woman weeps dejectedly with cards and an empty purse on the ground at her feet.

(2) A drunken woman lets an infant fall from her arms; on the wall is a torn print inscribed ‘Domestic Happiness’.

(3) A woman is being conducted to the watch-house by two watchmen, one with his lantern, the other with a rattle.

(4) She beats hemp in Bridewell, a man standing behind her with a whip, as in Hogarth’s ‘Harlot’s Progress’.

The words round the circle are KEEP WITHIN COMPASS AND YOU SHALL BE SURE TO AVOID MANY TROUBLES WHICH OTHERS ENDURE. Beneath the circle is inscribed ‘Prudence produceth esteem’. Below the design four verses are engraved, the first:

‘Instead of Cards my Fair-one look,
(I beg you’ll take it kind)
Into some learned Author’s Book,
And cultivate your mind.’

The woman is warned about the dangers of a promiscuous lifestyle:

‘If lewdness once your Soul alarms,

There’s not so bad an evil,

To prostitute those lovely charms,

Must drive you to the Devil.’

But the admonishment  to ‘keep within compass’ was not confined to women – Dighton produced a companion piece featuring an industrious man, inside the arms of the compass. A sackful of gold coins lies at his feet. Behind the male figure, workers are  toiling hard in the fields; grain is being milled in the mill served by a water wheel; all is prosperity and  wealth. The four corners contain contrasting illustrations, with one showing the man gambling and drinking away his fortune and another with a man sitting with a whore on his lap. Lower corners show the dangers of  a ship striking the rocks i.e. if the man gets out of his depth and takes too many risks. The bottom right quadrant shows the man looking out through the bars of his prison cell.

A slightly different variation of the female inside the compass, showing the lady wearing a fine be-ribboned hat,  is shown here:

Beneath is the slogan ‘Keep within the compass women, Enter not into the way of the wicked and go not into the path of evil men”.  At the corners of the print are examples of “fallen” women. In the upper left a mother is not caring for her child properly; the infant appears to be slipping from her lap. In the top right a woman is shown working in a tavern. In the lower left a woman is standing in a street selling things to make money. In the lower right is shown a prostitute soliciting for business. All of these activities are, it is suggested, inappropriate and demeaning for a woman. The reward for behaving “properly” is written around the circle: “Keep within compass and you shall be sure to avoid many troubles that others endure.” In addition to proscribing certain behaviors on the part of women the illustration describes the appropriate relationship between husband and wife: in a marriage the woman should tend to the family and depend on the man to work and provide for them; her role is to be the “Virtuous Woman” and “a Crown to her Husband.”

‘Keep within Compass’ is not a phrase we are familiar with today – but obviously in the eighteenth century it was well-known.

There has even been a public house at Whitwick in Leicester, more generally called the Rag ‘n Mop, entitled ‘Man Within Compass’. The story goes that in the early 1830’s the publican was a freemason and the compass referred to  the fact that the premises were also used as a masonic lodge. There are records of at least two pubs called, simply, ‘Keep within Compass’, with examples in Uxbridge and High Wycombe. There is also a hotel in Sydney, New South Wales, which shares this name –  while the Wellcome Collection features a print from 1810 entitled ‘The Alehouse Sermon’.

It shows a doctor holding court, offering health advice, outside a pub with its hanging sign of  ‘a man within a compass’.

The Colonial Williamsburg site shows this fan, clearly copying the theme from the Dighton print:

 

A quick search on Google shows children’s plates transfer printed with the slogan ‘Keep within Compass’.

Elsewhere, I also came across a teapot featuring a man on one side and a woman on the other, on the

 blogsite of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Hanes and Ruskin Antique site  there is an earthenware bowl, somewhat coarsely decorated:

The Norwich Museum has a rather better illustrated piece of pearlware – in this case another teapot:

 

The Printed Pottery and Porcelain  site describes the scenes on the teapot as showing: ‘the virtuous woman on one side and the virtuous man on the other. The female figure is on the principal side, that is, the side seen by a right-handed person when pouring the tea. She holds a book inscribed “The Pleasures of Imagination Realized” and stands beside an open jewellery chest labelled “The reward of Virtue”: above her “FEAR GOD”, around her “KEEP WITHIN COMPASS AND YOU SHALL BE SURE TO AVOID MANY TROUBLES WHICH OTHERS ENDURE”, to the left “Attend unto this simple fact as thro[ugh] this life you rove”, to the right “That virtuous and prudent ways will gain esteem and love” and below her “Prudence brings Esteem”. The four scenes beyond the compass indicate the fate of the woman who does not keep within compass: idleness (playing cards scattered on the ground) and dissipation (raising a glass and dropping a baby) lead to arrest by two constables and picking oakum in the workhouse.’

The slogan appears to have been adapted to show current fashions well into the 1820s, with this version being a print by William Darton.

William Darton was a Quaker, and he inherited his father’s print-making business in Tottenham in the early 1800’s. In 1804 he opened new premises at 50 Holborn Hill which he modestly termed ‘The Repertory of Genius’. He retired in 1851 and died three years later but the business was carried on by his son, in partnership with Samuel Clark.

William had specialised in maps and cartographical scenes – mountains and rivers mostly – but in this  print he is clearly updating an existing print to give it a more ‘Victorian’ feeling. The images are framed with somewhat earnest exhortations inspired by the Bible, such as ‘Sacrifice not thy Conscience for Money,’ ‘Spare when Young, then Spend when Old’ and ‘He that goes a-Borrowing, goes a-Sorrowing’. Hard work was obviously the order of the day, with ‘Drive thy business, let not thy Business drive thee’ In a sense  the emphasis has entirely switched away from images of  transgression – no whoring, drinking or gambling scenes here!  No wonder it appears somewhat boring in comparison with the more boisterous Dighton images which it so clearly plagiarised!

As a final thought: the images shown above would have sat happily alongside all those conduct books  urging men, but particularly women, to stick to the  path of righteousness  and virtue. Needless to say, when I give my talk I will be focussing on the  men and women who failed to listen – who chose the path of licentiousness and sin. For me, the activities shown in the corners of both of the main etchings are by far the most interesting!

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….

Oct 282021
 

Another Carington Bowles print, this time based on a painting by John Collet and shown courtesy of the British Museum:

It shows the scene in a tavern where half a dozen men are eagerly  jostling to attract the attention of the attractive woman behind the bar.

I love the detail, the dog urinating on a copy of ‘The Gazetter Extraordinary’ on the floor while a man on the left, on tip-toes, reads a copy of a paper called the “Public Ledger”. On the extreme right a bespectacled man reads the “Morning Post”. Another dog stands on its hind legs, eager not to miss any of the excitement, while a man in military uniform, eating what looks like jelly or a custard from a glass with a teaspoon, looks intently at the barmaid. She wears a spectacular hat and is seen serving behind the bar, at the rear of which numerous glass and pottery bowls are displayed.

The hand-coloured mezzotint was published in July 1778. And just to show how different the print looks when finished by a different colourist, here is the same print in the possession of the Colonial Williamsburg Museum:

I actually prefer the Colonial Williamsburg version – but then again, I am biased. CW have kindly invited me back to give a talk at their week-long 18th Century seminar in early 2022. The theme is virtue and vice. And no, let’s just say that I will not be talking about virtue. Vice? Well, that’s another matter…

Oct 212021
 

A nice mezzotint by Carington Bowles, dating from 1771 and shown courtesy of the British Museum:

It is entitled “Hi! Ho! These late hours will soon destroy me” and shows a fashionably dressed lady –  a prostitute –  sitting down after a late night, hands raised, mouth wide open in a yawn.  She sits alongside a table where a piece of paper reads ‘Lady Racket’s compts to Sr George Airy’.  I don’t think we have to worry about who George Airy was – it is a pure coincidence that a famous astronomer had that name as he wasn’t even born until 1801, at least thirty years after this print first appeared.

Clearly, she has charged for her services and now, as ‘a lady of the night’ she  is regretting the loss of her beauty sleep.

Below the image are the words ‘Printed for Carington Bowles. Map & Printseller, No. 69 in St. Pauls Church Yard, London’.

Oct 012021
 

If there is one caricaturist I love more than Thomas Rowlandson it has to be James Gillray – and  I  feel I should mention one site which really helps understand this wonderful, vituperative and often scandalous artist. It belongs to Jim Sherry and is called ‘James Gillray – Caricaturist’ and the link is here.

Every month or so sees a small list of caricatures which are then explained in detail and put into their historical context – and the explanations are fascinating.

I give as an example a delightful piece which is included in the current list, entitled ‘Flannel Amour – Female Patriotism’. I can do no better than repeat it verbatim – with Jim’s permission. I must admit I wasn’t familiar with this particular caricature, which came out nearly 228 years ago. It reads as follows:

“In this delightful print in which he takes full credit for both the drawing and etching, Gillray imagines a hands-on response among the British female population to the growing likelihood that the Flanders campaign, after its initial successes in the Spring and Summer of 1793, would be extended into the colder months of Winter and into 1794. He shows these patriotic women—both old and young, plump and slim—assisting the troops in donning their new “flannel armour” donated as part of the war effort.”

Flannel-Armour;_Female-Patriotism. . .

Flannel-Armour;_Female-Patriotism. . . [November 18, 1793]
© Trustees of the British Museum

“Predictably, the print is full of sexual innuendo. The woman on the left bends way over using both hands to pull up a flannel sock over a soldier’s one extended member, leaving him to protect a more intimate one (for which his leg may be a symbol) with a scrap of shirt and his hand. Two women with their eyes obviously on the prize pull up the flannel breeches of a soldier with his back to us. It is certainly no accident that the central figure is dressed in vivid scarlet or that a musket with bayonet behind her rises prominently and precisely in the center of the entrance to an interior room.

As early as October 11, 1793, the Edinburgh Advertiser announced the formation of a “VOLUNTARY SUBSCRIPTION for supplying the BRITISH TROOPS on the CONTINENT with FLANNEL WAISTCOATS.” The article pointed out that

the present seat of the war [Holland] is a cold and a damp country; and the season is approaching when our soldicrs in those parts may, it is to be feared, be in greater danger from disease than from the sword of the enemy. (P.9)

The announcement was followed by a list of more than 50 Scottish donors, including Lady Dundas, the wife of Sir Lawrence Dundas, Commissary General and supplier of goods to the British Army who must have known a thing or two about cold raw weather and the kind of clothing appropriate to it.

Although the idea for a voluntary subscription for protective clothing seems to have orginated in Scotland, it was soon imitated by dozens of others further south, and enlarged to include “YARN WORSTED STOCKINGS and FLANNEL CAPS,” as advertised in the London Times for November 9. In the same article, the “Duchess of Leeds” was listed one of the principal subscribers.

But the most likely inspiration for Gillray’s print was the following note appearing in the St. James’s Chronicle just nine days before Flannel Armour appeared.

Ladies' Subscription

Ladies’ Subscription [November 9, 1793]
© London St. James’s Chronicle

Taking the article at its word, Gillray ladies took the “opportunity of contributing” to the generous scheme, but not in the way that the Chronicle’s author intended.

Sources and Reading

***

So, if you like Gillray’s etchings do have a look at Jim’s site – and if you add your e-mail address to his subscription list you too can receive regular snippets about the work of this extraordinary artist.

Sep 222021
 

I came across this interesting image on the Wellcome Collection site. It was etched by George Cruikshank and published by Thomas Tegg in December 1819 and has the title “Villagers shooting out their Rubbish”. It shows three grinning yokels pushing a lawyer, a skinny physician and a rotund, gouty, vicar in wheelbarrows out of their village.

As a former lawyer I was always used to the idea of being held in low public esteem, and it is nice to see that two hundred years ago any opprobrium was shared equally with medical men and men of the cloth. But if it is a race, I am pleased to see that the lawyer is definitely in the lead….

Sep 182021
 

I rather like this reminder of how the River Thames had made London into a thriving fishing port two centuries ago. This Rowlandson  image appeared on 18 September 1810 and shows the area around Billingsgate market not as some huge industrial dockside scene filled with  trans-Atlantic ships, and vessels belonging to the East India Company – but as a simple landing stage where fishing boats could haul ashore their catches, straight from the North Sea. Entitled: ‘Procession of the cod company from St. Giles’s to Billings Gate’ the British Museum on-line catalogue describes the scene as follows:

“Seven enormously fat and brawny Irishwomen approach (right to left) the quayside at Billingsgate, below which are fishing-smacks. All carry baskets on their heads, two smoke pipes. An eighth woman, also smoking, sits on a low stool on the extreme left, with cod and lobsters spread out for sale. In the background (right) an open pent-house attached to the large houses flanking the dock is filled by tiny figures with baskets of fish; a man ascends a ladder towards it from the water with a basket on his head. One of the pent-house stalls is placarded ‘Salt Cod Bar . . Ling Pilcha[rds]’. In the background larger vessels lie at anchor against buildings on the south side of the Thames.”

The hand-coloured etching was published by Thomas Tegg at  his Cheapside premises and originally cost one shilling. It is shown on the Lewis Walpole site here.

And just as a balance, a second Rowlandson which actually appeared a few years earlier, probably in 1803. Entitled “Queer Fish” it shows a corpulent gentleman buying fish from a fisher-woman, and as usual, I love the way the artist depicts his characters (as well as the fish!) as being somewhat ugly. The scene is full of action and, as ever, there is always a more attractive lady lurking in the background. The detail is great. Again, my thanks to the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University for the use of the image.