London’s Caricaturists: Sex and Satire

Robert Cruikshank, 1819, Going to a Fight

Robert Cruikshank, 1819, Going to a Fight

© Cheryl Bolen

Cheryl wrote a variation of this article for the Quizzing Glass in 2011.

Between 1770 and 1830 some 20,000 satirical or humorous engravings were published in London’s print shops. The three most prominent artists (whom we think of as caricaturists) were, chronologically, James Gillray (1756-1815), Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827), and George Cruikshank (1792-1878).

Because these dealt with politics, international affairs, and scandals and satire of London’s social elite, those who figured in the graphic satire and those who flocked to the print shops to purchase them for a shilling or more came from the middle and upper class.

The Caricature Shop, 1801, Anon. Most of these were located on The Strand. Rowland's shop was at 52 Strand; Ackermann's print shop was at 101 Strand.

The Caricature Shop, 1801, Anon. Most of these were located on The Strand. Rowland’s shop was at 52 Strand; Ackermann’s print shop was at 101 Strand.

British historican Vic Gatrell uses his study of the 60-year era of graphic satire to show that before the Victorian era, London was a city of sex and laughter. The result of his interest is the stunning City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London, a nearly 700-page tome featuring 289 of these “cartoons” published (in the U.S) in 2006.

Man, how these illustrations demonstrate sex and satire! Many of these illustrations have never before been reprinted, partly because of the bawdy subject matter.

Since many of the social situations which inspired these satirical illustrations are unknown to most of us, Gatrell has kindly provided text to explain the background. His research and knowledge of Georgian London are astonishing.

These 700 pages are crammed with interesting tidbits. Some examples:

  • Bachelor Prime Minister Pitt (the younger) “was stiff to everyone except a woman.”
  • Public hangings were moved from Tyburn to the gate of Newgate prison in 1783.
  • Piccadilly was the first street to be lit by gas—in 1809.
  • Sedan chairs did not go out of fashion until 1820.
  • Women wearing powdered wigs washed their heads every three months.
  • Bagnios (public baths/brothels) were located in the Charing Cross area near Charles I’s statue.
  • Doors to Haymarket opened at five.
  • Drury Lane boxes cost 5 shillings, and upper gallery seats could be had for a shilling.

Because the artists slightly changed the actual names or omitted letters, the artists and printers did not get sued.

One print, for example, shows Lady Worsley washing her naked body in the bathhouse at Maidstone while her husband, Sir Richard Worsley,  stands outside, hoisting a man up to the small window near the roof to get a peek. The story goes that Sir Richard tapped on the bathhouse door to notify his wife he was going to give Bissett a peek. Apparently, Sir Richard was an accomplice in his wife’s many adulteries. The text on the drawing reads:

Sir Richard Worse-than-Sly, Exposing his Wife’s Bottom – O Fye!

cartoon 7

Gillray, 1796. Fashionable Jockeyship. This caricature depicts Lord Jersey carrying the Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent) to his wife's bed. The horns the prince is depicting are the sign of cuckold.

Gillray, 1796. Fashionable Jockeyship. This caricature depicts Lord Jersey carrying the Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent) to his wife’s bed. The horns the prince is depicting are the sign of cuckold.

Cuckolds were popular scandals for the caricaturists. Here’s one on the notorious affair between Lady Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson while her husband, Sir William Hamilton turns a blind eye.

cartoon 6

Isaac Cruikshank. A Mansion House Treat – or Smoking Attitudes! Lady Emma Hamilton, dressed in one of her attitudes costumes, smokes with her lover Lord Nelson as her husband, Sir William, has his pipe lighted by a sailor as he sits between Lord Mayor of London, at left, and Prime Minister Pitt. Their conversations are full of double entendres. The sailor tells Sir William his pipe is too short. Emma says, “Pho, the old man’s pipe is always out, but yours burns with full vigor.” Nelson replies, “I’ll give you such a smoke. I’ll pour a whole broadside into you.”

Many of the illustrators accepted bribes. George Cruikshank (whose father, Isaac, was also a noted caricaturist) accepted £100 from the regent to strop satirizing him. Gillray earned a £200 annual pension from George Canning in 1797 to produce propaganda against the Foxite Whigs.            

“Bums, Farts, and Other Transgressions” is the title of one of the chapters. If you ever wondered how to illustrate a fart, this is the book for you. Part of another chapter on libertines deals with the erotica Rowland illustrated from 1790 until 1810. Some of the erotica is truly graphic, even pornographic, except Gatrell explains that because they are humorous they do not meet the criteria for pornography. (Warning: Keep book out of reach of young children.)

George Cruikshank, 1819. Loyal Address's Radical Petitions, or the R---t's most Gracious Answer to Both Sides of the Question at Once.

George Cruikshank, 1819. Loyal Address’s Radical Petitions, or the R—t’s most Gracious Answer to Both Sides of the Question at Once.

Some of Rowlandson’s erotica was costly to purchase and was prized by wealthier Londoners. These prints were also shared with women.London in Regency times was the richest and most economically dynamic city in the world, and its residents were undoubtedly the most debauched.

Rolandson, 1800. Gratification of the Senses a la Mode Francois (Ackermann, 1800)

Rolandson, 1800. Gratification of the Senses a la Mode Francois (Ackermann, 1800)

Of the couple of hundred Regency research books in my library, this volume has risen to the top five in breadth of knowledge imparted. –Cheryl’s newest House of Haverstock book, Countess by Coincidence, releases on July 7 and can be purchased for half price during the preorder period.

 

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41 thoughts on “London’s Caricaturists: Sex and Satire

    • So am I, I respect any recommendation you make! I think along with the 1812 dictionary of the vulgar tongue, and the 1815 epicure’s guide to London and Mrs Rundell’s 1806 domestic economy [1850 reprint] it’s going to one of my much used books. There’s nothing like going straight to source.

  1. Very interesting reading about these type of early illustrations. That was a funny way of illustrating a man passing gas…I laughed out loud. I learn so much from reading authors blogs.

  2. I love your blog! Informative and funny… great combination. Then have the pleasure of reading your books as well. Thanks for being so talanted!

  3. Are most of the pictures and descriptions like those you added here or are they much worse? I loved how the artists changed the name of the person in their picture. Do you know when the first defamation of character suits might have been started?

  4. I think we forget that people from the past were funny and found humor just as people do today. Terrific post and funny cartoons. Thank you.

  5. Hi Cheryl,
    I enjoyed this post immensely. I’m an Anglophile and have seen a lot of Caricatures. However it’s nice to know some of the artist’s names. Thank you for sharing such wonderful info. I need to read your blog more. It’s fascinating! Btw, The Victorian era is my fav.

  6. What a tremendous cultural change Victoria brought about– probably virtually complete in the first forty years of her reign.

  7. And yet we think of those who lived in that time as being so uptight and moral when in reality they enjoyed a good, bawdy sitcom as much as the rest of us!

  8. Interesting to say the least and more amusing than I thought would be…a different side of history than usually seen for sure!

  9. Just goes to show that there were people that also had a sense of humor back then, they all weren’t such prudes. Some liked to have fun too, they just did it a little bit “quieter” back then.

  10. Amazing! I just ordered this book thru’ interlibrary loan – can’t wait to see the librarian’s face when I collect it! I also alerted a list I am on, with links to your blog. Thank you for all this wonderful research!

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