Checklist Part 4
Spurred on by a fear of the United Irishmen and other revolutionary societies, Henry Dundas, Secretary of State for War, assembled a report for the Secret Committee of the Commons on the activities of suspect individuals and societies in England and Ireland. Gillray presents his own dire report as a “transparency,” a popular form of street art, in which a picture is illuminated from behind. Among Gillray’s imagined radical plots were: “Plundering the Bank”; “Assassinating the Parliament”; “Seizing the Crown”; “Establishing the French Government.” Figures probably representing Pitt and Dundas are partially hidden by the transparency, while the Whigs scurry away under cover of the dark. Gillray succeeded in simulating the effect of a backlit picture with an inventive use of soft ground etching. He pressed into a tacky, receptive etching ground an open-weave fabric, which when pulled away from the plate removed the ground and exposed the plate in a weave pattern. The result, when the plate was etched, was a mysterious, shadowy backdrop that contrasted with the luminous passages to suggest the effects of a transparency.
Toward the end of 1797, Pitt’s Tory ministry presented Gillray with a secret pension amounting to £200 a year, an award that coincided with the arrival of a new weekly satirical newspaper, the Anti-Jacobin. The newspaper was published by John Wright and edited by William Gifford, with contributions from George Canning, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, John Hookham Frere, and others. Printed on the press of a government-subsidized newspaper, the Anti-Jacobin, with the approval of the Prime Minister, was privy to inside government information and, like many other newspapers of the day, was vehemently partisan.
The newspaper was not illustrated, but Gillray contributed prints, which visually reaffirmed its message of the “horrors of French Jacobinism” and generally discredited the Opposition. Now in the employ of the government until the fall of Pitt’s government early in 1801, Gillray muted his lampoons of the royal family and of the Prime Minister. His close association with the government is also reflected in his increased political awareness, particularly of foreign affairs. It was claimed that many of the ideas for his satires came from the Anti-Jacobin circle: “Canning and Frere and George Ellis and William Gifford and even Pitt himself.”
First issued on November 20, 1797, the Anti-Jacobin ceased publication on July 9, 1798, but was soon followed by a new, but now illustrated journal, the Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine, beginning in July 1798. Gillray contributed a number of fold-out plates to the new periodical, including this satire. These prints were probably also issued singly and sold unfolded at Hannah Humphrey’s shop.
In this print, Gillray illustrates (and possibly parodies) the popular theory, espoused by Swiss physiognomist Johann Caspar Lavater in his influential treatise, Physiognomische Fragmente (1775–78), that there was a direct relationship between physical appearance and moral character. Gillray was certainly aware of this treatise, having engraved an illustration after Fuseli for the English translation. In a series of double portraits of Opposition leaders, beginning at the top from left to right, Gillray associates Fox with the Devil (though, in fact, Lavater favorably analyzed Fox’s physiognomy). Sheridan, who was always in debt, has an avaricious double. The Duke of Norfolk is shadowed by his drunken true self. George Tierney, portrayed in The Friend of Humanity (#64), is relegated to “The lowest Spirit of Hell,” and the radical Sir Francis Burdett is compared to a well-known highwayman. Gillray was consistently cruel in his caricatures of Lord Derby, whose double is associated with a “baboon” in a bonnet rouge, and the Duke of Bedford, who survives relatively unscathed, is identified as a jockey, reflecting his passion for horse racing.
According to Diana Donald, this print particularly angered the Whigs. Without question, the Ministry appreciated Gillray’s efforts to “lower” the Opposition, and as one Tory wrote to Gillray in October 1798, “Nothing mortifies them so much as being ridiculed.”
Gillray satirizes radical politician John Horne Tooke’s alliance with Fox’s Whig party by alluding to Horne Tooke’s 1788 essay, also called “Two Pairs of Portraits.” In this pamphlet he had extolled the virtues of William Pitt the Elder and the Younger, while he denounced Fox and his father, Lord Holland, as corrupt and unscrupulous. Gillray compares side-by-side portraits (on the easel) of Fox, the personification of vice, and Pitt, the embodiment of honesty, who followed the examples set by their fathers, Lord Holland and William Pitt senior, Earl of Chatham, portrayed below. Horne Tooke is surrounded by evidence of his own questionable character, including a bust of Machiavelli, a portfolio with sketches inscribed “From Robertspierre [sic] … from Marat,” and, on the wall, a print of the radical “London Corresponding Society a Sketch for an English Directory.”
Gillray’s complex print accompanied a poem by George Canning, Pitt’s Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. According to the Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine, “the existence of a Jacobin faction, in the bosom of our country, can no longer be denied. Its members are vigilant, persevering, indefatigable, desperate in their plans and daring in their language. The torrent of licentiousness, incessantly rushing forth from their numerous presses, exceeds, in violence and duration, all former examples.”
Gillray imagines the “Jacobin faction” as a procession of Whigs, from politicians to poets, all susceptible to the influence of the French Revolution. Among the Opposition, accompanied by monsters, frogs, crocodiles, and snakes, are Whigs Nicholls, Tierney, and Fox, who straddle the back of a Duke of Bedford leviathan, led by Joseph Priestley, while other politicians carry documents that testify to their radicalism. At the front of this parade are poets, including Robert Southey, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (both portrayed with asses’ heads), and Charles Lamb (as a frog), who attend a “cornucopia of ignorance,” as it spews forth pamphlets and copies of London’s Whig newspapers. As David Bindman points out, this satire, set in a deconsecrated St. Paul’s after a French invasion of England, is also an attack on the French Theophilanthropists, whose Enlightenment theories spawned “Jacobin savagery.”
Soon after George Canning, a Pitt ally, entered Parliament in 1794, he became eager to appear in a Gillray print. He noted in his diary in August 1795: “[The Reverend John] Sneyd tells me that Mr. Gillray the caricaturist has been much solicited to publish a caricature of me and intends doing so. A great point to have a good one.” When Canning was not included in The Death of the Great Wolf (#46), as had been expected, Sneyd even provided Gillray with a sketch of Canning, and made arrangements for the men to meet. Though Curing John Bull of His Canine Appetite, a satire on the tax upon dogs, was never realized as a print, the lightly sketched figure on the right is Gillray’s earliest caricature of Canning, who assists William Pitt, described by Timothy Heyman as a “multi-armed, mantis-like toothpuller.” Canning first officially appeared in Promis’d Horrors of the French Invasion, hanging from a lamppost (#48).
Canning, who in his youth had collaborated in a satirical weekly, The Microcosm, was one of the moving forces behind the reactionary newspaper the Anti-Jacobin. Along with editor William Gifford, assisted by John Hookham Frere, and George Ellis, Canning attacked perceived “Lies, Misrepresentations and Mistakes” committed by the Opposition press.
Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin
Gillray was invited to contribute prints, which complemented articles and poems, to the Anti-Jacobin (1797–98), but the periodical was not illustrated per se. He also contributed to the Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine, which followed the first series, beginning in July 1798. Gillray’s prints, which elaborated upon the published text, were folded and bound in the magazine. The success of these projects led to a third commission: to illustrate a deluxe edition of Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin. Ultimately this project came to naught, given that George Canning and John Hookham Frere, major contributors to the literary effort, forbade Gillray to make “personal caricature among the illustrations.” As Diana Donald suggests, it is likely that at that moment, “party hostilities were set aside in the interests of national solidarity, [and] Canning and his circle went to great lengths to prevent Gillray from again caricaturing the Foxites.” It was implied that his governmental pension could be at stake.
No print survives of this oil sketch of Voltaire, surrounded by a demonic host, as he educates a feral, monster child, Jacobinism. Gillray scholar Draper Hill believes that this image would have accompanied the “Ode to Jacobinism,” which appeared in the March 26, 1801, issue:
… Voltaire inform’d thy infant mind;
Although Gillray never succeeded as a reproductive engraver or as a painter, this sketch shows that he had a facility for oil painting.
Gillray made his own “tracing paper” by preparing a sheet of paper with oil or resins, rendering it translucent. He could reverse the sheet and with a stylus transfer the image to the etching plate, which after etching would be reversed again in printing to “read” as Gillray intended.
Like the oil sketch of Voltaire, this was intended to appear in Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin. Draper Hill surmises that this would have accompanied “Lines Written at the Close of the Year 1797,” in the January 15, 1801, issue, attributed to “An Englishwoman” but apparently written by Canning:
Loud howls the storm along the neighbouring shore;
Gillray scholar Draper Hill relates this sketch, showing Fox again haunted by bad dreams, to verses appearing in the March 5, 1801, issue of Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin:
Scarce had sleep my eyes o’erspread,
This preparatory drawing relates to a print, known only in a unique impression, that also was to have appeared in Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin. The subject of the print is obscure, but it shows the radical Sir Francis Burdett scattering tricolor paper, as he ascends heavenward toward a tiny monkey, wearing a bonnet rouge, who rides across the sky in a chariot pulled by donkeys. The figure of Burdett, seen here, borrows the pose of Giovanni da Bologna’s bronze figure of Mercury, which, as Richard Godfrey points out, would have been familiar to Gillray. A cast of this sculpture graced a mantelpiece at the Royal Academy, which Gillray attended beginning in 1778.
The Arm of Providence (detail)
These drawings were preparatory sketches for a very rare and enigmatic print, executed for, but not published in, Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin. The drawing on oiled paper shows the overall scheme (here in reverse): an ecstatic woman sweeps upward into the sky along the arc of what will be a rainbow. Her arms are extended, as she tosses flowers into the cosmos. Above her, the “arm of Providence” grasps in its hand a ball of fire, from which spins a spiral of sparks. In the pen-and-ink detail, Gillray suggests the explosive energy of that fireball.
The Directory had wanted Napoleon to invade Great Britain, but believing that France did not have sufficient naval power, Napoleon recommended that France instead attack Egypt and interrupt the British trade route to India. At first this campaign was a success. Napoleon seized Malta, and by June 1798 he had taken Alexandria and his troops quickly overran the Nile delta. However, Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile on August 1, 1798, ended Napoleon’s string of triumphs and confined his troops to the land he had conquered.
Gillray executed a number of plates relating to Napoleon in Egypt, inspired by letters written by disaffected French naval officers, which were intercepted by the Navy and published by the Ministry. Alluding to that pilfered correspondence (“from the Original Intercepted Drawing”), Gillray elaborates on the fact that Napoleon brought with him to Egypt a contingent of nearly 200 engineers, mechanics, surveyors, mathematicians, artists, musicians, poets, and archaeologists (among their discoveries, the Rosetta Stone). Gillray shows these scientists and aesthetes trapped on top of the Column of Pompey (actually dedicated to Diocletian) under attack from Bedouins and Turks, who build a fire at the base of the column. Two scientists are sent hurtling to the ground when their balloon explodes: one is about to be pierced by an arrow, the other will be impaled on a Turkish spear. The commander (probably Napoleon) holds up a sign, “Vive Mahomet Qui protegoit les Sciences” (Long live Mohammed who patronizes the sciences).
Gillray here celebrates several British naval victories, the most famous being Admiral Horatio Nelson’s defeat of the French navy at Aboukir Bay at the mouth of the Nile on August 1, 1798, news of which did not reach London until October 2. A plump John Bull gorges himself on French warships (“Frigasees”), served up to him by Lord Nelson (in the right foreground, with a wound over his left eye, received in that battle). Other naval heroes include Lord Howe (to Nelson’s right) and Admiral Duncan (on the far right), who defeated a Franco-Dutch expedition to Ireland. John Bull’s hat hangs over a print of “Buonaparte in Egypte,” while, visible through the open window, Fox and Sheridan, dismayed by events so contrary to their predictions, beat a hasty retreat. Gillray’s contemporaries acknowledged Gillray’s role in demeaning the Whigs. In November 1798, shortly after this caricature was issued, Lord Bateman wrote to Gillray: “the Opposition are as low as we can wish them. You have been of infinite service in lowering them, and making them ridiculous.”
This print also celebrates Nelson’s victory at Aboukir Bay. Instead of John Bull as a personification of England, Gillray embodies British vigor and spunk in Bull’s “seagoing alter ego,” Jack Tar, here thwarting Napoleon, who appears as the symbol of France. Jack Tar’s toe is firmly planted on Malta, which, supported by a British blockade, rebelled against French occupation in September 1798.
By November 1799, Napoleon, as First Consul, was, in effect, the master of France. Though Gillray never saw him in person, Napoleon was one of his favorite subjects, appearing more times in his prints in 1798 and 1799, according to Draper Hill, than in the work of all of his colleagues combined. Hill attributes Gillray’s interest to his association with the authors of the Anti-Jacobin, who had predicted that Napoleon would establish a military despotism.
Gillray’s satire, which lampoons the meaning of “democratic,” recounts his version of Napoleon’s biography in eight vignettes. The first seven concern his Corsican childhood, his training at military school at the Crown’s expense, his betrayal of the King, his aping of Turkish customs and Islamic beliefs, his flight from Egypt, his attack on the Council of Five Hundred, and his ascension to First Consul of France. In the final scene, he is haunted by a nightmare prophesying retribution for his dark deeds and ruthless ambition. As Draper Hill points out, this “history” is a “prototype of the modern Sunday adventure comic.”
In this outrageously rude satire, Gillray suggests that Napoleon, decked out in a plumed cap, is seeking to emulate and to identify himself with the crowned heads of Europe. Napoleon, labeled as “First Horse Turd,” swims after a procession of apples floating downstream, each bearing royal and imperial insignia (the foremost apples being England’s allies in the Second Coalition). Floating in Napoleon’s wake are clumps of horse manure: “Second Horse Turd,” “Third Horse Turd” (Second and Third Consuls), Talleyrand, Robespierre, and Marat. On land, steaming mounds of manure are inscribed with names of men idolized by the French Revolution, among them Rousseau and Voltaire, along with caricatures of members of the Opposition, including Fox, Sheridan and John Nicholls (described as a “conspicuously ugly Opposition member”). Napoleon’s ultimate destination was the distant Temple of Fame. In this scurrilous attack, Gillray is also referring to Napoleon’s diplomatic blunder when, as First Consul, he sent a letter proposing peace directly to George III. As British historian M. Dorothy George points out, “This personal approach, apart from the question of Bonaparte’s status, was contrary to diplomatic practice.”
Gillray, who had portrayed Prime Minister William Pitt as a fungus, as a vulture, and as Death, paid genuine tribute to Pitt when he resigned from office in March 1801. As part of the Prime Minister’s efforts to create a political union of England and Ireland, Pitt had proposed the emancipation of Irish Catholics, allowing them to vote and hold state office, if they met the property qualifications. The King adamantly refused and Pitt stepped down as Prime Minister. Gillray contrasts the dignified procession of Pitt and the members of his ministry (Secretary of State for War Dundas, holding his arm; Foreign Secretary Baron Grenville; First Lord Spencer; and Loughborough in his Chancellor’s wig) with the antics of the Opposition, led by Sheridan, with a butcher’s cleaver, and Tierney, armed with a cat. An air-born tankard of Whitbread’s Entire refers to Samuel Whitbread, son of the founder of the brewing firm and a supporter of Fox, who is not present in Gillray’s fictional account. Gillray’s governmental pension ended when Pitt left office.
While Gillray often attacked royalty and the upper classes for their
idle lives and dissolute behavior, Pitt is shown here as a model aristocratic
statesman of impeccable private virtue, whose professionalism and devotion
to civic duty and to his country set an example for coming generations
of patrician public servants, including George Canning and, later, William