Checklist Part 2
In this travesty on Milton’s Paradise Lost, Gillray portrays the power struggle between Prime Minister William Pitt and Lord Chancellor Edward Thurlow as a contest between Death and Satan. His composition parodies Hogarth’s painting of Satan, Sin and Death (or possibly an undated painting by James Barry), as well as Fuseli’s Satan Encount’ring Death, Sin Interposing. Gillray’s penchant for playing off of “high art” reflected his own earlier ambition to be a “serious” engraver, while such borrowings both elevated and burlesqued his subject. In this print Gillray may also have been alluding to Fuseli’s projected Milton Gallery, modeled on Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery, lampooned in Gillray’s masterpiece Shakespeare-Sacrificed (#124, on view in the Library’s South Hall).
The outrageousness of his depiction of the skeletal William Pitt as Death and winged Thurlow as Satan is exceeded only by his devastating “portrait” of Queen Charlotte as the Snaky Sorceress, Sin, who separates the two men, while she protects Pitt. The suggestive placement of her right hand hints at a “special relationship” with Pitt, the victor in this contest, which ended with Thurlow’s dismissal. Cerberus sports the heads (bottom to top) of Henry Dundas, Secretary of State for Home Affairs; William Wyndham Grenville, Foreign Secretary; and Charles Lennox Richmond, Master-General of the Ordnance. Not surprisingly, this print was said to have given great offense at court.
This was Gillray’s first response to the fall of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. He was initially sympathetic to the cause of the French Revolution, like many of his countrymen, who assumed that a British-type constitution would follow. Here he compares and contrasts the French Finance Minister, Jacques Necker, an early hero of the Revolution, who is carried aloft in triumph by the Duc d’Orléans and Lafayette, with the Tory Prime Minister, William Pitt, who tramples the Crown and enslaves the King and the people.
As the French Revolution turned more violent, English enthusiasm for the Revolution waned. Gillray reflects this change in attitude with a wry reprise of his earlier print (above). French liberty is now equated with the opportunity to starve, while the British “slave,” who complains that he is hungry, attacks a well-laden table. Gillray, who explains that this image was created “pro bono publico” (“for the public good”), may also be dryly commenting on the simplistic national stereotypes typical of anti-Jacobin propaganda. The skinny, sharp-toothed Frenchman (a first cousin to Queen Charlotte in Sin, Death, and the Devil [#22]), dining on onions and snails, is contrasted with the obese Englishman, who consumes a side of beef. Gillray’s dual images were widely copied and even decorated pottery and medals.
This outrageous print would have been inconceivable after Louis XVI was guillotined in January 1793, but in 1791 it reflected a growing tendency to demonize Republican sympathizers, and to suspect Jacobin treachery within the ranks of the Whigs. The setting is the Crown and Anchor tavern on the Strand, where for a time British supporters of the French Revolution gathered to celebrate the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. Radical John Horne Tooke suggestively holds up King George’s legs, while playwright and politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan steadies the King’s head, and fellow Whig Charles James Fox wields an axe. In the background, Queen Charlotte and Prime Minister William Pitt hang from a lamppost, their bodies twitching in sexual proximity, alluding perhaps to their alleged “special relationship” and collusion during the Regency crisis. While Gillray is directly attacking the Whigs, he also ridicules the King, who does not understand the seriousness of his predicament, and characteristically says, “What! What! What! – what’s the matter now.”
On the eve of the second anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, Gillray reflects growing concerns about laboring-class unrest at home, stirred up by events in France. In this satire on the radicals who admired the French Revolution and on the Revolution Society (founded to celebrate the English revolution of 1688), the allegorical figure of Liberty has been transformed into the Fury Alecto. This monstrous hag, wearing a French cocked hat and tricolor cockade (ribbon rosette), marches to the Whig Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s fife and Charles James Fox’s drum, as they entice John Bull to join the revolution. John Bull, the beleaguered Every Man, is ambivalent. While he wants to “wear one of your vine cockades, & be a French Gentleman,” he hesitates to abandon “Varmer George” (“Farmer” George III).
On July 14, 1791, the “Constitutional Society” of Birmingham (an organization formed in 1780 to encourage parliamentary reform) invited “any friend of freedom” to celebrate over dinner the second anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. In keeping with popular perceptions of this organization, Gillray’s chorus prays: “preserve us from Kings & Whores of Babylon!!! Put enmity between us & the ungodly and bring down the Heads of all Tyrants….” This dinner sparked riots in Birmingham, where the home of Joseph Priestley, depicted here standing with holy chalice and salver, was sacked, his library and scientific equipment destroyed. Although none of the Whigs in Gillray’s fictional account attended that dinner, including playwright and politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan on the left, Opposition leader Charles James Fox in the center, and Horne Tooke on Fox’s left, they were increasingly subject to anti-Jacobin attacks. Priestley found his anti-government views distinctly unwelcome, and as conservative reaction to the French Revolution intensified, he eventually fled to the United States.
Events in revolutionary France, including the King and Queen’s aborted flight and arrest at Varennes, had reverberations across the Channel. As extremists were consolidating their control in Paris, tensions further heightened when King Gustaf III of Sweden was assassinated in March 1792. In response, the British government in May encouraged magistrates to exercise tighter control over “riotous meetings and seditious publications.” In this print of George III (allegedly taken “ad vivam” [“from life”]), Gillray alludes to an earlier regicide: George III studies Samuel Cooper’s portrait of Oliver Cromwell, who signed the death warrant of Charles I.
Although originally a Whig and a supporter of the American Revolution, statesman and celebrated orator Edmund Burke warned that the French Revolution would lead to the collapse of order and an outbreak of regicide and atheism. Reduced here to a pair of peering spectacles, a prying nose, and a pair of tiny hands wielding a crown and a crucifix, Burke split with the Whigs and by 1792 had allied himself with the Tory leader, William Pitt. The “rat” upon whom Burke spies is the Dissenting, radical clergyman Dr. Richard Price. Gillray imagines Price at work on an imaginary essay “On the Benefits of Anarchy Regicide Atheism,” with a picture of the execution of Charles I hanging over his desk. Price’s actual sermon before the reformist Revolution Society, which praised the French Revolution and its ideals of liberty, and championed an elective monarchy, provoked Burke to write Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). While Burke’s essay was probably instrumental in changing Gillray’s attitude toward the French Revolution, the artist chose to portray Burke as a crazed fanatic. As Draper Hill has commented, “with typical ambiguity, the content of the engraving is critical of Price but the form ridicules Burke.”
Gillray facetiously dedicates this print to the Jacobin Clubs of France and England, making it, according to Draper Hill, “the first anti-Jacobin satire published in England.” As Hill points out, the name “Jacobin” was widely adopted in England after 1793 to refer to revolutionaries in general and to their principles.
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense (1776) had helped pave the way for the American Declaration of Independence. In March 1791, Paine responded to Edmund Burke’s denunciation of the French Revolution with the first part of his Rights of Man, dedicated to George Washington. The book caused a sensation, went through eight editions in that year, and was quickly reissued in the United States and distributed by the Jeffersonian societies. Gillray alludes to Paine’s trade as a maker of corsets by equipping the revolutionary with scissors; his tape is inadequate to measure a gigantic royal crown. Paine wears a French cocked hat with a revolutionary tricolor cockade inscribed, “Vive la Liberty.”
Gillray “pro bono publico” (“for the public good”) shows Paine beset by nightmares in a wretched garret, his bed framed by his guardian angels, scientist and political theorist Joseph Priestley and the leader of the Whig party, Charles James Fox. In February 1792, Paine published The Rights of Man, Part II, in which he expanded his defense of the French Revolution to promote Republicanism over monarchy and to propose a wide range of social programs, financed by a progressive income tax. Like Part I, Part II was widely circulated in cheap editions, and was even translated into Gaelic, Erse (Irish Gaelic), and Welsh. The book was banned, the publisher jailed, and Paine was indicted for treason, his trial set for December 18. Paine fled England for France and was made a French citizen in August 1792. However, when he tried to save Louis XVI from the guillotine, he was imprisoned for a time by Robespierre. In 1802, he returned to the United States. He died in New York City in 1809.
In 1792, the Tory government was alarmed by the threat of Jacobin activity in Britain. Seditious clubs were proliferating, and there was domestic unrest, including bread riots. Here Gillray imagines the conversation between a perplexed John Bull and a terrified Prime Minister William Pitt, who has mistaken a flight of geese for “Ten Thousand sans Culottes …, Five Hundred Disputing-Clubs with bloody Mouths; & Twenty Thousand Bill-stickers with Ca Ira [a popular revolutionary street song in 1792, loosely translated as “We’re off and away”] pasted on the front of their Red-Caps!” Pitt warns John Bull, “they’re Rising & coming upon us from all parts….”
John Bull is ambivalent and confused. His hat sports two conflicting tickets: “Vive la Liberté” and “God Save the King”; in one pocket he carries the loyalist essay Pennyworth of Truth and in the other, Paine’s radical Rights of Man. While Gillray supported the King, he seems to have been skeptical about the Ministry’s fear-mongering tactics. Except when on their payroll, he was equally dismissive of the efforts of the Association for the Preservation of Liberty and Property Against Republicans and Levelers, founded by John Reeves at the end of 1792 to respond to and suppress seditious publications with counter-propaganda. Gillray’s inscription – “Price 3 shillings – The Engraving not having been Paid for, by the Associations for vending two’ penny Scurrilities” – taunts Reeves’s organization, also called the Crown and Anchor Society, after the tavern where Reeves had his headquarters. The Crown and Anchor was also a meeting place for those in the opposite camp, who supported the Revolution (see The Hopes of the Party, #25).
Louis XVI was guillotined on January 21, 1793, and Gillray “for the public good” offers his own imaginary “eye-witness” account. A bony sans-culotte (the nickname for revolutionary workers, who did not wear the knee-breeches favored by the aristocracy), two daggers dripping with blood tucked in his belt, fiddles like Nero from atop a lamppost. In the background a church dome burns, as the guillotine blade descends on the King’s neck. The bodies of a bishop, two monks, and a judge hang from lamp brackets, as the enthusiastic mob of bonnets rouges (referring to the red caps worn by the revolutionaries) cheer the regicide and, by implication, the destruction of legal and spiritual authority.
The King’s safety had become increasingly tenuous. The royal family’s flight and capture at Varennes in June 1791 destroyed any illusions that he supported the Revolution, as well as the hopes of those who advocated a constitutional monarchy. The National Convention formally abolished the French monarchy on September 21, 1792, and on the following day established the Republic. Louis XVI was put on trial in December 1792, condemned to death on January 17, and executed on January 21, 1793. In this horrific print, Gillray idealizes his portrait of the late King, who beseeches the English to “revenge the blood of a Monarch most undeservedly butchered, – and rescue the Kingdom of France, from being the prey of Violence, Usurpation & Cruelty.” On February 1, a little more than two weeks before Gillray issued this print, France declared war on England and Holland.
In this parody of an ancient ceremony, Gillray intimates that Fox and other Whigs were plotting with French revolutionaries. Traditionally, when Mount Vesuvius threatened to erupt, a procession of clergy and laity paraded the head of Januarius, the patron saint of Naples, before the mountain to ward off disaster. Here Gillray replaces the Neapolitans with Foxite Whigs as sans-culottes (Fox taking the role of Saint Januarius), who seem to relish the impending eruption of the “mountain,” which was also the nickname (Montagnards) for the most radical Jacobins.
This print was issued at the height of the Terror when, between June and July, more than 1,300 people were executed, and Robespierre himself was arrested and guillotined on July 28, 1794. At the end of June, in the midst of this upheaval, the Opposition (Fox and other members of a now-depleted Whig party) called for peace with France. The women who hand-colored Gillray’s prints, following his model, gave Vesuvius, active for the first time in years, French Revolutionary tricolor lava, which threatens St. Paul’s Cathedral and St. James’s Palace.
The Association for the Preservation of Liberty and Property Against Republicans and Levellers (known as the Crown and Anchor Society) was founded by John Reeves in November 1792. With unstated government support, it was dedicated to addressing what was perceived as the “radicalization of popular opinion.” Among the threats to the nation were seditious publications and “the many shameful and libelous Prints upon our Gracious Sovereign and his Family” as well as “ludicrous and caricature Prints” which promoted “an unjust and impracticable system of Equality and weakened allegiance to king and constitution.” To counter these perceived attacks, the Crown and Anchor Society published loyalist propaganda in the form of inexpensive pamphlets, broadsides, and prints, such as a popular image by Thomas Rowlandson, after Lord George Murray, The Contrast 1792/Which Is Best. While Gillray ridiculed the Society and such simplistic, fear-mongering prints (as he did in his satire John Bull Bother’d; – or – The Geese Alarming the Capitol [#32]), here he, too, apparently accepted a commission from Reeves. Like Rowlandson, Gillray uses contrasting images to make vivid the French threat to British domestic tranquility and prosperity.
The Foxite Opposition, a small minority after the defection of a number of more conservative members in 1793, repeatedly pressed for peace with France. By 1795, French victories and a dire British economy made peace negotiations popular with the general populace. To counteract these political pressures, Gillray vigorously attacked Fox and other loyal Whigs. Quoting from a 1794 caricature by Isaac Cruikshank, Gillray portrays Britannia as groveling before a monstrous personification of the French Republic, capped by a guillotine halo. Fox and Richard Brinsley Sheridan as British versions of sans-culottes offer France: “the surrender of the navy of Great Britain – of Corsica – of the East & West Indies,” as well as the “Keys of the Bank of England.” Pitt’s brother-in-law Charles Stanhope, who was the chairman of the Revolution Society and a supporter of the French Revolution, promises the “destruction of Parliament.”
Popular discontent over the war with France was exacerbated by the economic hard times, with taxes a leading grievance in 1795, a year when the citizenry was also saddled with the costs of the Prince of Wales’s marriage and the payment of his debts. In John Bull Ground Down, Prime Minister William Pitt grinds John Bull into coins, which are scooped up by the Prince of Wales to pay his jockeys, moneylenders, and mistresses. Another greedy beneficiary is Edmund Burke, who received a generous annual annuity.
Disastrous harvests in 1794 and 1795 inspired the Lord Mayor of London to urge Parliament to set an example by reducing their wheat consumption. Unlike the general population, the Ministers had “Substitutes for Bread.” They consume gold guineas, fish, and wine, while a menu on the wall recommends venison, roast beef, poultry, and turtle soup. The public, viewed through the window, begs for aid; the banner petitioning on behalf of the “starving swine” alludes to Edmund Burke’s disparaging reference to the general population as the “swinish multitude.”
In the bottom print, Gillray satirizes the “loyalty loan” of £18 million needed to reinforce the army and cavalry and support a supplementary militia. The letter “requesting” this money inspired one contemporary to write, “To threaten those who will not … pay extravagantly, is in the tone of the highwayman….” The highwayman Pitt is reinforced by Edmund Burke; Foreign Secretary Baron Grenville, known for profiting from his various sinecures; and Henry Dundas (wearing plaid), the Secretary of War.
Gillray imagines, with outrageous hyperbole, what would happen in the House of Commons should radical reformers, including the London Corresponding Society and the Society for Constitutional Information, assume power and carry out legislative reforms. Gillray may have recalled that when William Pitt became Prime Minister, he initially championed reform, but the French Revolution led to a change of heart. Pitt was said to remark, “It’s not reform they want but revolution!”
And it is revolution, an English version of the Terror, which Gillray, associating the Opposition with the aims of the radicals, prophesies here. With a noose around his neck, Pitt listens to a litany of charges, read by “Citizen” Charles Stanhope, his brother-in-law, while in the lower right other Whigs warm themselves before a fire fueled with the Bible and the Magna Carta. In the left foreground, Thomas Erskine (a lawyer and politician who defended Thomas Paine and exonerated the founder of the London Corresponding Society) demands that Fox, seated on the Speaker’s throne, deliver a death sentence. The benches are filled with unenfranchised sans-culottes. A consummately skilled printmaker, Gillray here scores the plate with some kind of striated tool, which creates a dark, mysterious, and threatening mise en scène. The print was issued in a large edition, suggesting that it had government backing.
Gillray associates Prime Minister William Pitt with Apollo, who crosses the heavens in a chariot pulled by the British lion and the white horse of Hanover, illuminated by the Sun of the Constitution and heralded by Justice, who flies overhead. The forces of darkness, equated with the Whigs and “French principles,” flee in terror. Sheridan, Fox, and Charles Stanhope, who earlier that year protested interference in French affairs and later called for peace, steal away in the right foreground. On the left a serpent-haired Fury identified as “The Whig Club” cowers before the onslaught. Other Whigs leave an array of documents in their wake: “Patriotick Propositions. Peace, Peace on any Terms. Fraternization Unconditional Submission No Law, No King, No God.” The chariot hurtles over other scrolls: “Plan for inflaming the Dissenters in Scotland”; “A scheme for raising the Catholicks in Ireland”; “Jacobin Prophecies for breeding Sedition in England.”
Recently, scholar Diana Donald has questioned whether this mock-heroic
print is an unequivocal hymn of praise to the Prime Minister or perhaps
suggests that Pitt’s chariot was “a symbol of ministerial
oppression and mistaken policy.” As she also points out, it is
not absolutely clear whether Apollo/Pitt will be victorious in the contest
between the forces of light and those of darkness. Pitt holds the reins
so loosely that the lion and the horse seem to race out of control.