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Theatre and Disorder in Late Georgian London$

Marc Baer

Print publication date: 1992

Print ISBN-13: 9780198112501

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198112501.001.0001

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(p.254) Appendix II Satires and Society

(p.254) Appendix II Satires and Society

Theatre and Disorder in Late Georgian London
Oxford University Press

DEPENDING on perspective, Georgian satirical prints are an artistic genre, a propaganda tool, or the product of one sector of the London economy.1 Once prints entered the market-place of ideas, however, they moved from subtext to text. An example from the story of the OP riots of the lasting power of visual images to order memory is Killing No Murder (see Plate 3). Percy Fitzgerald, in writing about the OP affair in 1871, remembered the print rather than written evidence in recalling that ‘a coarser, more unmitigated set of ruffians could not be conceived’. Having read Fitzgerald, a generation later Henry Saxe Wyndham characterized the OPs as the ‘scum of London’.2 That these portraits were inaccurate is less significant than the powerful impact of the Cruikshanks' print.3 But how did this happen? and for whom?

Did visual sources usually reflect or affect society—or as put by one contemporary, was caricature ‘one of the means for the correction of vice and improper conduct’?4 Such a simple question has a rather complex answer, because prints operated within specific socio-political contexts. This book has shown that there was, in fact, an interactive relationship between text and text,5 image and image,6 and between written texts and visual images.7

(p.255) In early nineteenth-century London, prints, other media, and word of mouth combined to present information about events and simultaneously circulate verbal conventions about and visual symbols of them.8 Consider Clifford vs. Brandon, a print published just after the trial of 5 December,9 the same day Gillray published his anti-Clifford Counsellor O.P. (see Plate 9). In Clifford vs. Brandon, Kemble, Brandon, and Justice Mansfield are seen beinghooted out of Westminster Hall. Brandon: ‘Oh D n the OPs’; Kemble: ‘This is an end to all my glory.’ The crowd exclaims: ‘OP Forever’ and ‘Clifford Forever’. The last exclamations were more or less factual, the former two imagined, and the action is symbolic rather than descriptive. But as a representation of the victory of the OPs over Kemble and the legal system, the print reasonably portrays developments in December 1809. That the print solidified the triumph of the Covent Garden crowd in the minds of Londoners is also true, which may have led to an increase in the number of items thrown at actors during this stage of the riots.10

Or consider The Set-Too between Old Price and Spangle Jack the Showman, published 6 October, two days after the boxers wereintroduced.11 This print shows a boxing match between Kemble, supported by the committee which inquired into prices and profits; Kemble fights a smaller opponent backed up by John Bull and three comrades. In this case the action is completely symbolic, an interpretation of management's response to the disorder. As the farce John Bull was one of the plays performed on the 6th, those who saw both print and play likely felt the power of a set of conventions.

A final example from 1809 is the song ‘Heigho! Says Thimble’, written by George Colman and illustrated by George Cruikshank, which appeared just prior to the opening of the new theatre.12 It in turn was used to accompany a pro-OP squib, Heigho! Says Kemble, (p.256) and was later still put to music.13 All the emotions associated with the music and words of the original song were revived in the squib.

Several late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century prints which portray crowds outside print shops show people reacting to what they saw; these complement written sources to the effect that print shops were an important cultural institution.14 There was an interplay of words and images for the literate. Non-readers, intrigued by the coloured illustrations—just as with the scenery in a theatre—would have had the text read to them.15 The prose accompanying This is the House that Jack Built (see Plate 6) was based on a nursery rhyme, as was the ballad, ‘Johnny Leave the Pit Alone’ (sung to the tune of ‘Molly Put the Kettle On’).16 All these examples suggest prints built upon a foundation of literary and visual conventions which existed by the mid-eighteenth century.17

Prints were thus only one element within a larger system, a ‘sphere of symbolic cross-referencing’,18 which included broadsides and broadsheets, illustrated chapbooks, ballads, cheap tracts, coins and medals, pottery, and handkerchiefs. As well as among individual homes, many of these were present at taver circulating ns, coffee-houses, workshops, plebeian clubs, and election crowds. These media were in turn both forms of entertainment (broadsides sold for as little as a halfpenny) and modes of protest, in each case for a segment of the population distinct from those who bought (p.257) prints and presumably also read newspapers and other journals of opinion (coloured prints usually sold for 1–25., newspapers for much less).19 The interaction between high and low culture through the medium of the print may well have fostered the flow of politics in both directions.20

This interaction can be seen in one moment at the beginning of October 1809:

  • And now did our young poets seem
  • Delighted with the present theme—
  • To celebrate this week's contention
  • They exercis'd all their invention;
  • And many an ode and pasquinade
  • The daily newspapers display'd;
  • But that which great credit gain'd,
  • The Morning Chronicle contain'd—
  • A song, call'd the NEW CHEVY CHACE.

‘Chevy Chase’ was an old ballad. And Thomas Tegg soon published the song in a broadside, New Chevy Chace or Covent Garden in an Uproar, having hired the Cruikshanks to illustrate it. One linereads: ‘Old Plays and Prices we'll have back’, and the song ends with:

  • God save the King, and bless the land,
  • Our liberties and laws,
  • And thus may Britons ever stand
  • United in their cause.21

In this one source we see an old title appropriated for a new event, sold for both profit and propaganda. This same point can be made with Killing No Murder or The Stroller's Progress (see Plates 3 and 10).

Broadsides like prints were created both for profit and politics, concerns not always distinguishable. Prints and broadsides which were subsidized by politicians were sold at below cost. Broadsides, which sometimes were illustrated, were usually sold but often given (p.258) away. During the Covent Garden riots the publisher W. Evans (who also printed playbills) was commissioned by the OP Committee to produce several broadsides favouring the cause. The content of one illustrated broadside was then duplicated in (or perhaps followed) the fourth stanza of a street ballad brought out by the same publisher.22

Publishers often had a political slant which affected what they produced and sold. There were radical publishers such as William Glindon, John Fairburn, and John Johnston; entrepreneurs whose politics inclined towards reform, such as Tegg, who in 1804 had written The Memoirs of Sir Francis Burdett; and conservatives like John Stockdale or Hannah Humphrey.23 At the same time, like theatre managers, all were opportunistic entrepreneurs responding to the changing market, which in London was shaped by events like the OP riots which aroused public interest.24 Thus a loyalist such as Stockdale could bring out the anti-Kemble Covent Garden Journal; and Gillray produced for the equallyconservative Humphrey the print Theatrical Mendicants, relieved (see Plate 7), which played into the hands of the Westminster radicals.25

As a commercial enterprise the production of prints was aimed at only a small portion of society. But a large number of print shops were located in London, especially in Westminster. This meant that for the metropolis, many more individuals saw and ‘read’ the prints than the number who purchased them.26 Prints were at times rented for an evening or displayed in exhibitions; they also appeared in pamphlets and periodicals which were included in lending libraries.

(p.259) Thus, like newspapers, the true circulation figures for London were considerably higher than the sales figures.27

So we return to the sources, verbal and visual, which portray the crowd at the windows of London print shops. And now it is necessary to understand prints somewhat more like ballads, as popular entertainment.28 The viewers can be analysed by looking at dress.29 Two points stand out: first, the audience, like that of patent theatres, is a mixed one, from patrician to plebeian; and secondly, the lower orders often appear more moved by the visual conventions, less passive than their social superiors. For the fashionable, prints were treated as art and print shops as galleries, thus functioning as an element of social life; but for the lower orders prints were treated as entertainment and print shops as theatres—and thus were more vital politically.30 Ronald Paulson's analysis of Rowlandson's portrayal of patricians in crowds bears this out: they were ‘always acted upon rather than acting, always associated with spectators rather than participants’.31

There remains the controversy whether prints made or reflected public opinion. Roy Porter has put the case for the latter, by contending they were ‘produced for and bought by the politically articulate metropolitan middle classes. It was thus basically preaching to the converted. … their role was rather to confirm prejudices, to fan the political flames.’ Leslie Shepard, in analysing the broadside has argued similarly, that street literature indirectly (p.260) impacted public opinion but failed to move readers or hearers to action. John Brewer questions whether satirical prints can be used as reflections of social reality, without taking care to understand visual and written conventions, and maintains that prints could have different meanings for different audiences.32 This last point is echoed by Jonathan Bate, who also notes that allusions in texts accompanying caricatures at times reinforced but on other occasions undercut the message of the print.33

The case for prints and related media such as broadsides as moulders of public opinion has been made throughout this book, in suggestions that they focused protest on individuals or important causes and thereby raised consciousness.34 The other event beside the OP riots which stimulated the production of a large number of prints in 1809 was the Mrs Clarke scandal.35 Dorothy George suggests that Cobbett's propaganda, popular prints, and the Clarke and other affairs combined to reorient politics from anti-popery to anti-corruption in the years between 1807 and 1809.36 Herbert Atherton has argued that loyalist propaganda in the 1790s was powerful because it accessed visual images and a metaphorical vocabulary the man and woman on the street (perhaps in front of a London print shop?) could comprehend; in turn, this may have been the result of the expansion of illustrations in children's literature.37 Satirical excessiveness, like theatrical hyperbole (in melodrama more so than in classicism), was effective because it exaggerated and drew from an inventory comprehensible to upper and lower orders alike.38 There is some evidence that life in this era was understood through art, for example the newspaper report of a crowd at an early nineteenth-century racetrack: ‘The whole procession would have been invaluable for the pencil of a Hogarth (p.261) or a Rippengale.’39 Many Londoners would have agreed with their Bishop in his concern that the morals of Westminster schoolboys were being ruined by their scrutiny of prints.40

Quite often dramatic material, theatrical themes, and play titles formed part of the system discussed here,41 one element of the reciprocal relationship between theatre and politics in late Georgian society which has been the focus of this book. Killing No Murder, which was the title of a play and of a caricature on the Canning-Castlereagh duel, was one of many prints which alluded to the stage.42 George Colman the elder's prelude, ‘The Election of the Managers’ played at the Haymarket Theatre during the Westminster election of 1784, and may have been based on a print which included the lines, ‘The Rival Candidates, a Farce, Perform’d at Covent Garden Theatre!'.43

Francis Place's 1812 pamphlet, A New Way to Pay Old Debts, which attacked the managers of Drury Lane, was the title of a well-known play. It worked the other way as well, for example in Rowlandson's 1805 print, John Bull at the Italian Opera, in this instance patriotism's critical attitudes towards a foreign genre suggesting both subject and title.44 And there is the example of Lord Sandwich who, portrayed negatively as ‘Jemmy Twitcher’ in The Beggar's Opera, became the subject of a succession of popularprints.45

In the prints of 1809 associated with the OP affair lies evidence that Kemble was defeated by a traditional system of ideological and emotional forces arrayed against the Covent Garden manager.46

(p.262) This system was still effective a decade later, and worked against the Liverpool government in 1819 after Peterloo, George IV in 1820, and even as late as the Reform crisis of the early 1830s. But by then both caricatures and mixed-audience theatres were disappearing, and by mid-century had lost out to, respectively, newspapers and magazines, and music-halls.47 Each had apparently needed the other to maintain its place within society.


(1) Herbert M. Atherton, Political Prints in the Age of Hogarth (Oxford, 1974); Brewer, Common People and Politics, 15–16.

(2) Fitzgerald, Kembles, ii. 127; Wyndham, Annals of Covent Garden, i. 343; cf. Taylor, Records of My Life, ii. 96–7.

(3) This power of prints to frame an understanding was true even for the caricaturists: compare Isaac Cruikshank's image of Kemble as Macbeth in Plate 1 with his son and collaborator George's illustration entitled Private Theatricals, in Dickens, Sketches by Boz, or Theatrical fun-dinner, in Comic Almanack (1841).

(4) James P. Malcolm, An Historical Sketch of the Art of Caricaturing (1813), iii; cf. Roy Porter, ‘Seeing the Past 5’, Past & Present, no. 118(Feb. 1988), 187; Charles Press, ‘The Georgian Political Print and Democratic Institutions’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 19 (Apr. 1977), 218; George, English Political Caricature, i. 3; Vicinus, Industrial Muse, 13, 15.

(5) See e.g. O-Poeiad, 13, quoted above, p. 186 andAn English Gentleman’, letter to The Times, 7 Nov. 1809, quoted above pp. 202.

(6) See above, Ch. 7 n. 45, and pp. 207–8; see also the changing images of Madame Catalani in BMC, nos. 11414–17.

(7) See above, analysis of Plates 1, 6, 10; see also pp. 228–30, and App. I. Gillray's 1791 anti-Paine caricature The Rights of Man (BMC, no. 7867), with references to ‘Poor Tom’ was transformed by other caricaturists into ‘Mad Tom’ (see BMC, nos. 7900, 8087), which in turn became the pseudonym for the author of an anti-OP pamphlet: Mad Tom, A Series of Letters on the Late Theatric Festival … (1810).

(8) Cf. Bate, Shakespearean Constitutions, 6.

(9) See above, pp. 102–3; BMC, no. 11434.

(10) See above, pp. 33, 160.

(11) BMC, no. 11420.

(12) See Cohn, ruikshank Catalogue, no. 1189.

(13) See above, Ch. 10.

(14) See Theodore Lane's George Humphrey's Print Shop in St. James's Street, 12 August 1821, Matthew Darly's The Macaroni Print Shop (cA77\), and William Heath's Good Humour (1829) in William Feaver, Masters of Caricature from Hogarth and Gillray to Scarfe and Levine (New York, 1981), 1, 44, 67; Gillray's Very Slippery Weather (1808) in The Works of James Gillray (1851; repr. 1968), no. 559; George Cruikshank's Grievances of London (1812) and Outside of a Humble Print Shop (1828) in Guilland Sutherland, ‘Cruikshank and London’, in Nadel and Schwarzbach, Victorian Artists and the City, 115, 119; and Peter Jackson, George Scharf's London: Sketches and Watercolours of a Changing City 1820–18SO (1987), 61, 124. For patricians, see the water-colour by Richard Newton (c.1794) in George, English Political Caricature, i. pi. 85 (and p. 205); cf. Bate, Shakespearean Con-stitutions, 15, 187; Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, 264.

(15) Richard Dagley, Takings (1821), quoted in Bate, Shakespearean Constitutions, 17; [Thackeray], ‘George Cruikshank’, 4; cf. Porter, ‘Seeing the Past’, 188–9; Dickinson, Caricatures and the Constitution, 11.

(16) Genuine Collection of O.P. Songs, 4.

(17) For this point regarding ‘This is the House that Jack Built’, see Blake, An Irish Beauty, 146–8.

(18) Pythian-Adams, ‘Milk and Soot’, 84; cf. Watson, Song and Democratic Culture, 16; Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, ch. 5; and Wells, Wretched Faces, 129.

(19) Brewer, Common People and Politics, 16, 37, and id., ‘Commercialization and Polities’; McCalman, ‘Convivial Debating-Clubs in London’; Epstein, ‘Radical Dining, Toasting, and Symbolic Expression’; Elkins, ‘Broadside’, 264–5, 270; Middleton, ‘Popular Music’, 272; Klingender, Hogarth and English Caricature, 68.

(20) Leslie Shepard, History of Street Literature (Detroit, 1973), 112–26; Porter, ‘Seeing the Past’, 196; cf. Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, 123.

(21) Tegg, O.P. War, 37; Theatre Museum, Enthoven Collection, Fl 18–67.

(22) See broadside entitled O.P. in OP Minutes; Robinson, Theatrical Street Ballads, 36; see also Dickinson, Caricatures and the Constitution, 15–18; Gorrie, ‘Popular Politics and the Old Price Riots’, chs. 34.

(23) For Fairburn and Johnston, see McCalman, Radical Underworld, 164–5. Glindon and Fairburn also printed materials related to the theatre: Robinson, Theatrical Street Ballads, 18, n. 2. For Humphrey and Gillray, see George, English Political Caricature, ii. 123.

(24) Hilary and Mary Evans, The Life and Art of George Cruikshank (1978), 30–3; McCalman, Radical Underworld, 223, 226; Robinson, Theatrical Street Ballads, 33–4; Press, ‘Georgian Political Print’, 233–5; Dickinson, Caricatures and the Constitution, 19; Brewer, ‘Commercialization and Polities’, 258; cf. Colman, Random Records, ii. 215.

(25) See above, Ch. 4.

(26) Brewer, Common People and Politics, 46; Atherton, Political Prints, chs. 1, 3.

(27) Cf. Dickinson, Caricatures and the Constitution, 13–15; Bate, Shakespearean Constitutions, 17–18. Individual copies of London papers were read by as many as thirty persons: Christie, ‘British Newspapers’, 325.

(28) Sutherland, ‘Cruikshank and London’, 112; Schopenhauer, A Lady Travels, 140.

(29) See Malcolm, Manners and Customs of London, 406–7; Herbert M. Atherton, ‘The “Mob” in Eighteenth-Century English Caricature’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 12 (Fall 1978), 51–3; Brewer, Common People and Politics, 21–6.

(30) Cf. facial expressions and body movement of patricians in the Cruikshanks' Tom and Jerry at the Exhibition of Pictures at the Royal Academy (1821) in Egan and Cruikshank, Life in London, Ackermann's Gallery (1809) in A. Hyatt Mayer, Prints and People: A Social History of Printed Pictures (Princeton, 1971), pi. 376, or Exhibition of Water Coloured Drawings, Old Bond Street in [Pyne and Combe], Microcosm of London, ii, opposite 25, with the prints referred to in n. 14 above; see also Bate, Shakespearean Constitutions, 15–18.

(31) Paulson, Representations of Revolution, 157; cf. F. S. Schwarzbach, ‘George Scharf and Early Victorian London’, in Nadel and Schwarzbach, Victorian Artists and the City, 101; Laqueur, ‘Crowds, Carnival and the State’, 337.

(32) Porter, ‘Seeing the Past’, 194; Shepard, Street Literature, 109, 125–6; Brewer, Common People and Politics, 16, 46–7. See also Atherton, ‘The “Mob” in Caricature’, esp. 49; Dickinson, Caricatures and the Constitution, 15, 20–1; Paulson, Representations of Revolution, 187.

(33) Bate, Shakespearean Constitutions, 19.

(34) Cf. Elkins, ‘Broadside’, 272.

(35) See BMC, nos. 11216–475.

(36) George, English Political Caricature, ii. 116–20.

(37) Atherton, ‘The British defend their Constitution’, 21; Plumb, ‘Acceptance of Modernity’, 331; cf. Porter, ‘Seeing the Past’, 189, 198.

(38) Cf. Atherton, ‘The “Mob” in Caricature’, 55–7; Paulson, Representations of Revolution, 182; and Plates 10, 13 above.

(39) Bristol Gazette, 5 June 1823, quoted in Harrison, Crowds and History, 173; see also Nicholson, Struggle for a Free Stage, 187; Laqueur, ‘Crowds, Carnival and the State’, 319.

(40) See Innes, ‘Politics and Morals’, 95–6. The Bishop of London, Beilby Porteus, was also president of the Society for Carrying into Effect His Majesty's Proclamation Against Vice and Immorality.

(41) See Robinson, Theatrical Street Ballads, intro.; Bate, Shakespearean Constitu tions, 28–9, 97; cf. Plate 1 above.

(42) George, English Political Caricature, ii. 122.

(43) London Chronicle, 3 June 1784; The Humours of Covent Garden or Freedom of Election, dated April \7U\BMC, no. 6511).

(44) For the print, see [Mackintosh and Ashton], Georgian Playhouse, pi. 268b.

(45) Porter, ‘Seeing the Past’, 194; see also Angelo, Reminiscences, i. 332; Brewer, Common People and Politics, 30, 33.

(46) It was wonderfully ironic that Kemble, who devoted his career to Shakespear ean productions, should be defeated in part by satirical prints. Bate claims ‘Shakespeare and caricature were twin weapons in the hands of English readers and critics waging chauvinistic battle against the neoclassicism associated with Voltaire and the French’, while he reads the OP riots as ‘a battle for the possession of Shakespeare’: Shakespearean Constitutions, 20, 43, and see also 36–8.

(47) Elkins, ‘Broadside’, 273; Press, ‘Georgian Political Print’, 225–7.