Checklist Part 3
Slightly more than a month after he issued Light expelling Darkness, Gillray, parodying a Benjamin West drawing, Death on a Pale Horse (1783), portrays Pitt as Death riding a white Hanoverian horse, wielding famine and destruction. An imp wearing the feathered coronet of the Prince of Wales kisses Pitt’s bony behind. Pitt’s steed tramples Whig politicians, including Fox, Sheridan, and William Wilberforce, who clutches a document, “Motion for a Peace” (the Opposition had continued to press for peace with France during the 1795 session of Parliament). Also crushed underfoot are some pigs, alluding to Edmund Burke’s comment in Reflections on the French Revolution that learning was being “trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude” (that is, the general population). While Gillray was alarmed by the Whigs’ sympathy for the French cause and distrustful of the radical British societies, he hardly toed the Tory line (except after December 1797, when he was on the ministry payroll), and his antipathy for Pitt was often quite evident.
The apocalyptic imagery refers, as well, to the predictions of Richard Brothers, who believed the French Revolution was part of a divine plan and fulfilled the prophesies of Revelation. Brothers, later deemed criminally insane, warned that if George III and the nation challenged the Revolution, they would be destroyed.
On October 29, 1795, a mob attacked the King’s carriage when he was on his way to open Parliament. The mob clamored for peace and bread and chanted, “Down with Pitt,” “No George.” A stone or perhaps a shot from an air-gun broke a carriage window. Gillray here presents his own version of these events. The coachman is William Pitt, who furiously drives the carriage onward, and tramples Britannia in his haste to escape the attacks of the ragamuffin Whigs, Fox and Sheridan. Lord Landsdowne fires a blunderbuss at the King, while the mob pelts the carriage with debris and a cat. The King appears oblivious to these alarming events. Gillray’s message seems to be double-edged: he is disturbed by civil unrest, but he is aware that British constitutional freedom could be jeopardized by the Ministry’s response to dissension.
The English historian M. Dorothy George observed that Pitt’s popularity was at a low point in 1795, with “dearth and unemployment, and military and diplomatic misfortunes … [and with] the activities of the Radical societies at their height.” In addition to the attack on the King’s coach, there were a number of public mass meetings, including a November 13 gathering at Copenhagen Fields on the outskirts of London, organized by the London Corresponding Society. This society, as George notes, pressed for annual Parliaments and universal male suffrage, attributed the famine to the “cruel and unnecessary war,” and demanded the recognition of “the brave French Republic.” Gillray offers his own eyewitness account of this event, with radical speakers attacking two Tory-sponsored bills, the Treasonable Practices Bill and the Seditious Meeting Bill. The former allowed words, written or spoken, as well as acts, to be judged treasonable, and the latter put restrictions on meetings of fifty persons or more.
Economic conditions improved in 1796, and Prime Minister William Pitt’s own political career prospered. Though the general elections were uneventful, Gillray offered this satire on the dissolution of Parliament in May of that year. Backed by the power of the Crown (the bellows) and Treasury gold (“Treasury cole”), the alchemist Pitt transforms Parliament into a government completely subservient to him. The Prime Minister here has become a “Perpetual Dictator.” Surrounded by the accoutrements of “wizardry,” Pitt sits on a miniature military barracks, a reference to a long-standing prohibition against the building of barracks for fear it would lead to military despotism. With little time for war preparations, Pitt had allowed barrack construction without Parliament’s approval or proper Treasury supervision.
Gillray addresses several issues here: fears of an impending French invasion, the current peace negotiations between Prime Minister Pitt and the French, and Edmund Burke’s alarmed response to these negotiations in his Reflections on a Regicide Peace. In this outrageous satire, Gillray depicts the Whigs as British Jacobins, who collaborate with the invading French army and import the French Revolution to fashionable St. James’s Street in London.
While the Palace burns in the background, Fox scourges Tory Prime Minister Pitt, tied to a Liberty pole. The Prince of Wales has been tossed from the balcony of White’s (a club, primarily frequented by Tories, on the left), soon to be followed by his brother, the Duke of York. The Whigs on the balcony of Brooks’s (a club favored by the Opposition) operate a guillotine, which has already claimed several victims, including Foreign Secretary Baron Grenville, whose head and ample hindquarters hang from a pole below. Edmund Burke is tossed in the air by a bull (a reference to the radical, cattle-breeding Duke of Bedford), while playwright and Whig politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan skulks into Brooks’s with the “Remains of the Treasury” and “Requisitions from the Bank of England.” Below White’s balcony, two Tories hang from a lamppost: on the left, Robert Jenkinson, later Lord Hawkesbury, and on the right, George Canning, like Jenkinson a member of Parliament and a future Prime Minister, who had been eager to appear in a Gillray caricature. There is often more than a hint of theater lurking in Gillray’s confabulations, suggesting that his message should be taken both seriously and with humor, an implied reproof of Tory scare-mongering.
From the beginning of the conflict with France, the British feared a French invasion. In October 1796, the King warned against such a threat, which was dismissed by the Opposition as a fantasy. However, on December 15, 1796, a French force of 15,000 troops with an armada of ships, led by General Lazare Hoche, sailed from Brest and anchored in Bantry Bay off southern Ireland, assuming that their invasion would prompt a popular uprising against the British. Like the Spanish Armada two hundred years before, this plan was undone primarily by stormy weather. The winds in Gillray’s version emanate from (left to right) the mouths of Prime Minister Pitt, Secretary of War Henry Dundas, Foreign Secretary William Wyndham Grenville, and War Minister William Windham. One ship, Le Révolutionare with a Fox figurehead, is tossed by wind and waves, the L’Egalité is swamped, and the Whigs aboard The Revolutionary Jolly Boat appear doomed.
Beginning in September 1796, Gillray began to sign prints after his own design: “inv: et fect” (“invented/created” and “made/engraved” it). Prints executed after a sketch or idea of another bore the annotation: “d: et ft,” “des: et fect,” or some variation, or Gillray simply left the print unsigned.
Gillray again associates the Opposition with radical societies and implicates them in plots against the government. On February 27, 1798, several Irish radicals and a member of the London Corresponding Society were arrested at Margate on the southeast coast of England before they could embark for France to press for another invasion of Ireland. One of the conspirators was executed, but the insurgents’ leader, Arthur O’Connor, was exonerated, largely on the testimony of several members of the Opposition. O’Connor later admitted his guilt in the invasion plot, a confession considered by Gillray scholar Draper Hill to be “perhaps the most damaging blow ever sustained by the Foxites.”
Gillray shows plotters Fox and Sheridan clambering up a ladder; the Duke of Norfolk is preparing to follow the Duke of Bedford up the chimney, while other conspirators (Horne Tooke, Nicolls, and Tierney) hide under the table as Prime Minister William Pitt and Secretary of War Henry Dundas break down the door. Only the tall and always erect Lord Moira, who had charged the King’s troops with brutality in Ireland, stands his ground. Evidence of their guilt is strewn about the room: bonnets rouges are stacked in the corner, and everywhere there are incriminating documents: “Plan of Invasion” (signed “yours O’Connor”), “Proceedings of the London Corresponding Society,” and “Bloody News from Ireland.” On the wall there are portraits of “Buonapart” and “Robertspier” (Robespierre).
A shortage of gold and a run on the Bank of England, triggered by the attempted French invasion of Ireland, an actual landing in Wales, and mounting war costs, led Pitt to suspend cash payments and substitute paper money. Pitt is portrayed here as an all-powerful colossus Midas, straddling the Bank of England (resembling a privy), gorged with gold, spewing forth paper money. Tory putti proclaim the “Prosperous state of British Finances.” In Ovid’s Metamorphosis, only the reeds and his barber knew Midas’s secret: in exchange for the golden touch he was given donkey’s ears (“for his Ignorance”), which he kept hidden under a turban. The reeds here conceal whispering Whigs, including Sheridan and Fox. In the background, a flotilla of ships leaves Brest harbor, while an army of tiny French Jacobins, armed with daggers, swoop up into the sky.
In another satire on the currency crisis and the substitution of paper money for gold, Gillray personified the Bank of England as the “Old Lady of Threadneedle-Street.” While he was undoubtedly inspired by Sheridan’s reference to the bank as “an old woman courted by Mr. Pitt,” the witty epithet, still in use, was Gillray’s own. Pitt makes very improper advances to the terrified elderly maiden; his hat partially hides a list of loans, alluding to the Whig accusation that Pitt intended to spend the nation’s gold on war.
A general in the French Revolution at age 27 and an implacable foe of England, Lazare Hoche led the ill-fated invasion of southern Ireland and planned incursions into Wales and Scotland. When he died in 1797 of consumption – or possibly as the victim of poison – his passing was observed in Paris with elaborate funeral celebrations and extravagant speeches. In this “apotheosis,” based on a suggestion from the Reverend John Sneyd and John Hookham Frere, a contributor to the partisan Tory Anti-Jacobin Review, Gillray satirizes these lavish obsequies, while he conjures up echoes of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. However, sacred references are here perverted. Hoche plucks on a guillotine-lyre, surrounded by Jacobin putti, wearing bonnets rouges, and is flanked by martyrs and victims of the guillotine. Floating above is the “Jacobin Decalogue,” which consists of an inverted Ten Commandments, instructing “Thou shalt Murder … Thou shalt commit Adultery … Thou shalt Steal …,” all sanctioned under the motto “Equality” and illuminated by a sunburst of daggers and bayonets. Below, the Republican army continues to kill and lay waste to the land, assisted by a venomous winged Fury. This remarkable print has been described as “probably the most elaborate ‘cartoon’ ever published.”
The London Corresponding Society pressed for annual Parliaments, universal suffrage, and an end to the war with France. The Treason and Sedition Acts, however, led to changes in the Society’s membership: the middle-class and moderate members withdrew, leaving the more radical elements to carry on with increased secrecy. On February 28, 1798, Irish insurgents planning a French invasion were arrested at Margate; Gillray includes O’Connor, Binns, and Evans on the list of those detained. The last two were members of the London Corresponding Society. Thomas Evans was actually arrested later, on the night of April 18, 1798, and the next day the remainder of the Committee of the Corresponding Society was also detained.
As the scholar David Bindman points out, Gillray wanted to suggest an “association between the United Irish, who had assisted the French to gain a foothold in Ireland … and the revolutionary English republicans who formed part of what was left in 1798 of the London Corresponding Society.” The grotesque, scarcely human plotters, startled to read about the arrests at Margate, recall Johann Caspar Lavater’s theory that character was reflected in physical appearance (see also #65). By skillfully utilizing the effects of aquatint, Gillray suggests that the members had to retreat to dark cellars to plot their treachery.
United Irishmen upon Duty.
The year 1798 was marked by a breakdown in peace negotiations with France, heightened fears of invasion, and alarm at the radical activities of the “enemy within,” confirmed by a month-long Irish rebellion beginning on May 23. As early as 1791, societies of “United Irishmen” had pressed for freedom from Britain and for parliamentary reform, but by 1795, their numbers fortified by the working class and peasants, they had become more radical and secretive. The arrest of a number of their leaders in 1798 sparked the summer revolt, which was eventually suppressed by government troops, with more than 25,000 lives lost. Gillray imagines Irish troops practicing their military skills in the top print, and pillaging and perpetrating atrocities against innocent peasants in the bottom etching. He peppers both prints with references to French influence, suggesting that the uprising was a Jacobin plot. These prints were also intended to encourage young Englishmen to volunteer in the militia and the army.
Charles James Fox was Gillray’s favorite villain, the personification of the British radical Jacobin. However, David Bindman points out that Fox was, in fact, “a Whig gentleman who had espoused constitutional reform,” “argued eloquently on behalf of basic human rights,” and, for some radicals, was overly sympathetic to the establishment. He challenged the excessive power of the King, welcomed the French Revolution, and opposed the war with France, which he saw as a “crusade against freedom in the interests of despotism.” Yet he insisted on the sanctity of private property, believing that land ownership was the basis of an aristocracy, and that a country with an aristocracy would prosper.
For Gillray, Fox is here the biblical serpent, tempting the slightly dense, but steadfast John Bull with the “apple of reform,” plucked from the decaying tree of the Opposition. However, John Bull’s pockets are already full of the healthy fruit of a constitutional monarchy, taken from the loyalist tree of “Justice,” bearing apples of “Freedom,” “Happiness,” “Security.” Gillray here also alludes to the French custom of planting a “tree of liberty” when Republican troops claimed new territory, just as American revolutionaries had earlier erected maypoles.
Gillray portrays Fox as a hairy French revolutionary, aiming his pistol at the British Constitution. He facetiously credits a French model as the source of the image (in fact, George Canning, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and one of the forces behind the Anti-Jacobin Review, probably suggested the idea), and dedicates the print to the radical London Corresponding Society. Diana Donald notes that this print, “‘hit so hard,’ we are told, ‘that it was never forgotten – and perhaps never forgiven.’” A preparatory drawing for this satire is in the Library’s collection.
Beginning in May 1797, with Pitt ascendant and the ranks of the Whigs depleted, Fox temporarily exiled himself from the House of Commons and retreated to his home at St. Ann’s Hill (actually the home of Mrs. Armistead, yet to be acknowledged as Mrs. Fox). Gillray imagines him praying before an altar, which is virtually a shrine to the French Revolution, replete with guillotine, Liberty cap, busts of Robespierre and Napoleon, and, instead of the Ten Commandments, a perverse Rights of Man. Fox, his hair cropped in the Republican style, is visited by an angelic host of other Whigs. Gillray seems delighted with the dramatic effects, suggestive of dark plans and subversive plots, that he could create with aquatint.
Gillray, who enjoyed afflicting his unfortunate subjects with nightmares, here suggests that Fox, who was critical of the government’s Irish policy, was guilty of aiding and abetting the radicals. Fox is visited by the ghosts of executed Irish insurgents. His cousin, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, who was killed by the British while resisting arrest, accuses the startled Fox, “Who first seduc’d my youthful Mind from Virtue? … who caus’d my Death?” Mrs. Fox sleeps on, undisturbed.
Pitt dominated politics in 1798, while Fox led a Whig party considerably diminished in numbers. By 1794, many members of the Opposition had switched sides in the wake of the excesses of the French Revolution, and aligned themselves with the government, leaving Fox’s minority the weakest Opposition ever known in England. Fox temporarily exiled himself from the House of Commons. In 1798, he was dismissed from the Privy Council for publicly supporting the “sovereignty of the people of Great Britain” and “the sufferers in the cause of freedom in Ireland,” whom Fox believed had a duty to use “every justified and legal effort – to shake off the yoke of our English tyrants.”
Gillray shows Fox, accompanied by two fellow Whigs, Charles Grey (“Opposition Gray-Hound”) and a tiny M. A. Taylor, fleeing the House of Commons. Prime Minister William Pitt is in the process of announcing a series of British triumphs (“Destruction of Buonaparte”; “Capture of the French Navy”; “Britannia Ruling the Waves”) that embarrassed the Foxites. He also holds up “O’Connor’s list of secret Traitors” (O’Connor was the Irish revolutionary exonerated by the Foxites, before he later confessed his guilt). Sheridan and other loyal Whigs are forced to eat their words: “Homage to the French Conv[ention],” “Loyalty of the Irish Nation,” “Peace or Ruin.”
January 1, 1801 marked the meeting of the first joint Parliament of
England and Ireland, the Irish Parliament having voted itself out of
existence the preceding spring. For Pitt, this successfully concluded
his efforts to create a political union of the two countries. In this
satire, Gillray elaborates upon a “serious” print issued
to commemorate the first gathering of the new Union Club on January 19,
1801. In Gillray’s version, the Prince of Wales has slid from his
throne to the floor in a drunken stupor (he is barely visible under the
table), and the rest of the assembled Whigs, who were against this union,
join him in drowning their sorrows in drink. Gillray inscribes Pitt’s
name on the face of the clock, acknowledging his role in bringing about