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.

Aug 312021

Vicars were often shown as being mercenary and corrupt – interested only in money and in collecting tithes from their parishioners. First up, a slightly different story, entitled The Old Dog’s Legacy and appearing in 1800:

The writing underneath tells the story:

Vicar: How could you be so profane as to inter your dog in the church yard. You are liable to be punished in the spiritual court.

Farmer: Why, aye doctor, but when you consider what a sensible creature he was, you will not be so severe. The day before he died he made his Will and left you a Legacy.

Vicar: A Legacy?

Farmer: Yes he left you six guineas and I’ve come to give it to you.

Parson: Oho, if that’s the case why did you not mention it before and he might have been laid inside the church.

The original drawing was by Isaac Cruikshank – father to the George Cruikshank who illustrated the earlier novels of Charles Dickens. Isaac lived between 1756 and 1811 and this etching and stippled engraving appears on the Lewis Walpole Library site here.

Another image showing greed on the part of vicars is this one from 1760 and entitled La Dime – the Tythe Pig. (The phrase ‘la dime’ referred to a French land tax, levied in much the same way as the English tithe, and representing a payment to the church of a tenth of the value of the year’s harvest etc). Once more, it is from the excellent Lewis Walpole Library site.

According to the British Museum site, the verse underneath ‘represents a satire on the clergy; a farmer and his wife offering their tithe to a clergyman by the tithe barn at the gate of his rectory; the man holds a sucking pig, the woman holds out an infant, saying that if the clergyman wants the former he must also take the latter; the clergyman turns away looking back over his shoulder in distaste’.

The verse starts off  with the words: ‘In Country village lives a vicar/Fond as all are of tithes and Liquor/ For mirth his ears are seldom shut/He’ll crack a jest and laugh at smut’.

It ends with the words: ‘The Vicar comes – the pig he claims/And the good wife with taunts inflames/But she, quite arch, bow’d low and smil’d/Kept back the pig and held the child/The priest look’d warm, the wife looked big/ Zounds sir! quoth she, No child, no pig’.

The British Museum dates the mezzotint as being slightly earlier (1751) and it appears to be a based on an etching by Louis Philippe Boutard, who was trading from the Golden Pineapple in Durham Yard in London’s Strand around the middle of the century. It was etched by the German-born print-maker Johann Sebastian Müller who operated out of premises at The Golden Head, on the corner of James Street, Long Acre, London.

Third up, another Richard Newton print from 1792 and which appears on the Lewis Walpole site showing a kneeling parson pledging undying love to an aged crone – who just happens to be loaded.

The verse reads: Hear me, angelic object of my love/Whose charms eclipse the brightest saint above!/Tis not your pedigree, nor large rent-roll/Nor funded thousands that enslave my soul./No, tis the magic sweetness of your smile (….  and so on, and so on).

The prints are just three of many from the period showing the avarice of Anglican clergy. And to end with I rather like “A flight of Parsons”, showing the vicars behaving like crows flying home to roost.

The seated man is saying “Zooks, there be a rare flight of parsons. I hope in my heart they wonna [won’t] alight on my farm, they’ve done mischief enough already in these parts.”

Published by S W Fores, I like the wording underneath the engraving – “Folios of Caricatures lent out for the Evening” – you can just imagine  a gathering at a fashionable house being handed around a folio of similar prints lampooning  the great and the good – and the clergy.

Aug 242021

The Lewis Walpole site has this mezzotint of what is described as “an exact representation of the depositing the body of her late Majesty Queen Caroline in the family vault at Brunswick, Augt. 24, 1821 : with the Revd. J.W.G. Wolff delivering her funeral prayer amidst the tears and sobs of the company’.

The description on the site is as follows:

“The coffin of Queen Caroline on a cloth-covered platform over which pallbearers hold an elaborate black canopy is carried down the aisle of church, followed by a minister who lifts his right arm as if speaking from the text in his left hand. To the right stand young women who throw flowers from their baskets as the procession passes. On the right, with an organ behind, soldiers stand in attention holding torches.”

The mezzotint was published by W B Walker and reflects the public concern for a woman who was treated appallingly by her husband, George IV. He banned her from attending his coronation at Westminster Abbey on 19 July 1821. Despite this snub, she turned up and tried to gain entry but was turned away from the coronation at the point of a bayonet. That night, she fell ill. Rumours circulated that she had been poisoned. More likely, she was suffering from stomach cancer. She lingered for three weeks before dying at Brandenburg House in Hammersmith at 10:25 p.m. on 7 August 1821 at the age of 53. Her body was carried through London to the port of Harwich and from there was shipped to her native Brunswick where she was interred under a gravestone marked “Here lies Caroline, the Injured Queen of England.”

Poor Queen Caroline. Deserted by her husband the King, she had  spent some years travelling in Europe accompanied by a number of male admirers including her servant the swarthy Italian Bartolomeo Pergami. She had been ridiculed endlessly by the English Press, and hounded by her husband, who sought to divorce her on the grounds of her adultery. Talk about ‘kettle’ and ‘pot’!

Bartolomeo Pergami being installed as a Knight Companion of the Bath – a print showing the scandalous suggestion that the Queen was sharing her ablutions with her servant Bartolomeo.

Queen Caroline may have been no oil painting but she didn’t deserve the ridicule and  scorn heaped on her by large sections of the British public. After all, she married the King in good faith. He reportedly got so drunk  when he met her, for the first time, on their wedding day, that he passed out later in the fireplace and failed to perform his marital duties, finding her offensively ugly and exhibiting poor personal hygiene. Forget the fact that he was a serial womaniser, was probably suffering from venereal disease, and was grossly overweight: in the view of many she was ‘beyond the pale’ and she deserved no sympathy.

R.I.P. Caroline, buried two hundred years ago today.