English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century/Chapter 12
THE POLITICAL SKETCHES OF HB (Continued).
Lord John RussellSydney Smith said of little Lord John Russell, that he was "ready to undertake anything and everythingthing—to build St. Paul's,—cut for the stone,—or command the Channel fleet," and this satire of the wit was true. He tried politics and he tried literature, and few people will say that he was entirely successful at either. As a politician, for instance, his general capacity for getting himself and his party into a mess, earned from the most intellectually powerful of his political opponents the enduring title of "Lord Meddle and Muddle." He has not been dead very long, yet what reputation has he left behind him as a dramatist—novelist—historian—biographer—editor—pamphleteer, all of which rôles he essayed at some time or other of his long and eventful career? His Nun of Arronca (1822) fetches it is true an exceedingly high price, because having been rigidly suppressed by its author it is now exceedingly rare. The best that can be said of Lord John—and that is saying a great deal—is, that he was a consistent Liberal according to his lights, and that to him belongs the honour and glory of bringing about the great measure of Reform, which, as we have seen, was, mainly through his instrumentality, accomplished in 1832.
Lord John, as might have been expected, frequently appears in the "political sketches" of HB. He cuts an amusing figure in one where Jonah (Lord Minto) is about to be thrown overboard by Lords Lansdowne, Palmerston, and Duncannon, by order of the captain (Lord Melbourne), to appease the storm raised by Lords Brougham and Lyndhurst in reference to a rumour that Lord Minto (First Lord of the Admiralty), had instructed British cruisers to stop all Sardinian vessels carrying warlike stores for Don Carlos. Lord John, while clinging to the mast behind, and viewing with terror the impending fate of his colleague, evidently solaces himself with the conviction that his own weight is too insignificant to have any material effect upon the safety of the ship. Minto owed his safety to the Duke of Wellington, who therefore figures in the sketch as the whale; for, although convinced that his lordship had been imprudent, he successfully resisted Brougham's motion for a copy of the instructions, and thereby succeeded in lodging poor Jonah on dry land.
Stamp Duty on Newspapers.One of the "sketches" in which Lord John Russell figures reminds us of a remarkable discussion which possesses considerable interest for every reader of the cheap newspapers of to-day. The Chancellor of the Exchequer (the Right Hon. Thomas Spring Rice) in opening his budget on the 6th of May, 1836, showed a disposable surplus of £662,000 only, which he proposed (in the usual way) to apply towards the reduction of taxation. He proposed, in the first place, to consolidate the paper duties and to reduce their amount in a manner which he proceeded to explain; and after accounting for £200,000, the balance of the surplus he intended to apply to the reduction of the stamp on newspapers. The duty minus the discount was fourpence, which he proposed to reduce to a penny, and to give of course no discount. The reader must not suppose from the foregoing, however, that all the proprietors of newspapers of that day paid the duty; on the contrary, the large majority evaded it in every possible way. The measure in fact was intended as much as a protection to the revenue as anything else, for the sale of unstamped newspapers throughout the country had become so extensive that no series of prosecutions was found effectual to put them down. Every sheet, it is true, professed to bear on it the printer's name; but the name so appended was in six cases out of eight a false one. Exchequer processes were issued; all the power of the law was set in motion; in the course of three weeks three hundred persons had been imprisoned for selling unstamped papers in the streets, but without in the slightest degree repressing the illegal sale. The Chancellor argued that the loss which the revenue would sustain in the first instance would be more than compensated by the enormous increase of duty to be obtained from the enlarged circulation; from the additional duty arising from the greater consumption of paper; and from the very large increase which might be expected from the produce of the duty on advertisements.
The opponents of the measure were of three classes: first, those who looked upon the proposal as radical and subversive; secondly, those who because a reduction is suggested in one quarter invariably consider it the correct thing to propose it in another; and lastly, the owners of the established newspapers of the day. The arguments of the first class assumed the following form: "In proportion as any political party approaches more or less towards pure democracy and the right divine of mere numbers, its interests will require that the means should be increased of disseminating among the lower classes, and as nearly gratuitously as possible, the exciting and poisonous food which is at last to end in the revolutionary fever." The second class, strange to say, rested their hopes in this instance on the singularly slippery basis of soap. Sir C. Keightley moved (on the 20th of June) that instead of diminishing the stamp duty on newspapers, the duty on hard and soft soap should be reduced. The reduction of such duty would, he argued, by aiding cleanliness, promote the health and comfort of the people, while the lowering of newspaper stamps would do nothing of the kind, but would tend rather to introduce a cheap and profligate press, "one of the greatest curses which could be inflicted on humanity." He contended, moreover, that it was absurd to argue that the poor were debarred from reading the public prints, when in a coffee shop, for three-halfpence, they could obtain a cup of coffee and a sight of every newspaper published in London. Mr. Barclay, one of the members for Surrey, thought it impossible for any reasonable being to hesitate between the relative virtues of newspapers and soap; and as for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he could not believe for one moment that if left to his own unaided judgment he would hesitate to give his preference to the latter. The Chancellor nevertheless avowed in the plainest terms his preference for newspapers, and his conviction of the advisability of an immediate reduction in the stamp duty; the result, after the lapse of less than forty years, has conclusively proved the wisdom of the measure which he succeeded in carrying.
Curious arguments of the newspaper proprietors.Newspaper proprietorship was then a monopoly; and the argument by which the rich proprietor, the representative of the third class of opponents, sought to maintain his monopoly cannot fail to amuse the newspaper reader of to-day. The monopoliser who, to maintain the character of his paper and to supply the public with the best and earliest information, incurred the expense of procuring parliamentary reports, obtaining foreign intelligence, anticipating the arrival of the post by expresses, and by having correspondents in every quarter of the world where matters of interest were going forward, said, that should the measure pass, he must thenceforth either be content to lower the tone of the public press by not giving the same amount of accurate intelligence, or must carry on the contest with those who went to no expense at all. "The result would be not only the ruin of the property of the newspaper proprietors and the destruction of their property, but it would be something much more fatal to the general interests of the country, for the editors of the present respectable papers would not be able to compete with these predatory publications, and would be compelled to forego that extent of information which was then so accurately given. We should have the newspaper press"—mark this, ye omnivorous readers of to-day, who commence with The Times, adjourn to the Telegraph, peruse the pages of the Morning Post, wander through the columns of the Daily News, and finish off with the express edition of the Globe or Evening Standard, reserving your Saturday Review, your Truth, and your Vanity Fair for Sunday solatium—"we should have the newspaper press simply reduced to this state: that no longer would there be a regular and correct supply of information to the public respecting the debates of Parliament or other important matters, but there would be only such an amount and such a description of information as could be furnished upon the inaccurate data of a man who would not go to any expense in the use of the means at present employed." These were the views of the newspaper proprietors of 1836, as expounded by that respectable but distinctly Tory authority, "The Annual Register."
The measure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of which we have attempted the foregoing explanation, appears to have suggested to John Doyle his sketch of The Rival Newsmongers, in which the leading men of all parties are represented in the act of endeavouring to force the sale of their own journals. The scene is supposed to be enacted in front of the Elephant and Castle, where we find the "Union Coach" waiting to take up passengers,—the three who occupy the roof being a Scotchman, indicated by his bonnet and plaid, Paddy by his shocking bad hat, while in the portly, jolly-looking party next him we have no difficulty whatever in recognising honest John Bull. The three are listening to the appeals of O'Connell, close to whom is Mr. Roebuck, and behind him again Mr. Hume. Sir Roger Gresley addresses himself to the insides, and the person holding up his paper to the special notice of John Bull is the Marquis of Londonderry. The driver of the coach is Lord Melbourne, and the ostler little Lord John Russell.
Lord Brougham. The public man who perhaps of all others earned and deserved his place in the pictorial satires of the nineteenth century was emphatically Brougham. The verdict of posterity on this restless but unquestionably brilliant man of genius must of necessity be a somewhat disappointing one; he aimed at being nothing less than an Admirable Crichton, and such a character in the nineteenth century, when every public man must be more or less talented, more or less brilliant, would be an impossibility even to a genius. A rival lawyer and political opponent, Sir Charles Wetherell is reported to have said of him that he knew a little of everything but law; and although this statement was spiteful and untrue, there is no doubt of the truth of Mr. Greville's remarks, that his duty as Chancellor was confined to appeals which must come before him, lunacy and other matters over which he had sole jurisdiction, and that "nobody ever thought of bringing an original cause into his court." We think we may even go farther than this, and say that no lawyer of the present day would dream of relying on Lord Brougham's decisions. O'Connell said of him, "I pay very little attention to anything Lord Brougham says. He makes a greater number of foolish speeches than any other man of the present generation. There may be more nonsense in some one speech of another person, but in the number, the multitude of foolish speeches, Lord Brougham has it hollow. I would start him ten to one—ay, fifty to one—in talking nonsense against any prattler now living."
Some amusing examples of his restless anxiety to figure on all occasions in the character of an Admirable Crichton are given by Mr. Charles Greville, whose "Memoirs" stand in much the same relation to the graphic satires of the nineteenth century as the "Odes" of Dr. Walcot do towards the caricatures of James Gillray. "Dined," says Mr. Greville (under date of 7th June, 1831), "with Sefton yesterday, who gave me an account of a dinner at Fowell Buxton's on Saturday to see the brewery, at which Brougham was the magnus Apollo. Sefton is excellent as a commentator on Brougham; he says that he watches him incessantly, never listens to anybody else when he is there, and rows him unmercifully afterwards for all the humbug, nonsense, and palaver he hears him talk to people. … They dined in the brewhouse and visited the whole establishment. Lord Grey was there in star, garter, and ribbons. There were people ready to show and explain everything. But not a bit. Brougham took the explanation of everything into his own hands; the mode of brewing, the machinery, down to the feeding of the cart-horses. After dinner the account books were brought, and the young Buxtons were beckoned up to the top of the table by their father to hear the words of wisdom which flowed from the lips of my Lord Chancellor. He affected to study the ledger, and made various pertinent remarks on the manner of book-keeping. There was a man whom Brougham called 'Cornelius' (Sefton did not know who he was), with whom he seemed very familiar. While Brougham was talking he dropped his voice, on which 'Cornelius' said, 'Earl Grey is listening,' that he might speak louder and nothing be lost. He was talking of Paley, and said that 'although he did not always understand his own meaning, he always made it intelligible to others,' on which 'Cornelius' said, 'My good friend, if he made it so clear to others, he must have some comprehension of it himself;' on which Sefton attacked him afterwards, and swore that 'he was a mere child in the hands of "Cornelius;" that he never saw anybody so put down.' These people are all subscribers to the London University, and Sefton swears he overheard Brougham tell them that 'Sir Isaac Newton was nothing compared to some of the present professors,' or something to that effect. I put down all this nonsense because it amused me in the recital, and is excessively characteristic of the man, one of the most remarkable that ever existed. Lady Sefton told me that he went with them to the British Museum, where all the officers of the Museum were in attendance to receive them. He would not let anybody explain anything, but did all the honours himself. At last they came to the collection of minerals, when she thought he must be brought to a standstill. Their conductor began to describe them, when Brougham took the words out of his mouth, and dashed off with as much ease and familiarity as if he had been a Buckland or a Cuvier. Such is the man, a grand mixture of moral, political, and intellectual incongruities."
If the part which Brougham's position as attorney-general to Queen Caroline obliged him to take at the memorable period of the "Bill of Pains and Penalties" had not closed the door of professional advancement against him, he had most effectually locked it against himself so long as her husband lived by the intemperate and ill-judged language in which he alluded to that event in the speech which he delivered at Edinburgh on the 5th of April, 1825. But Brougham was constantly on the watch for its being opened, and on the very day when George the Fourth died, that is to say on the 20th of June, 1830, he spoke in the House of Commons in eulogistic terms of the new sovereign, praising him for allowing the Speaker to take the oaths at an unusually early hour in order to suit the convenience of members, a graceful act, which Mr. Brougham declared he hailed as a happy omen of the commencement of an auspicious reign. The astute K. C.'s object did not escape the penetrating eye of HB, who forthwith represented him as The Gheber Worshipping the Rising Sun, in whose smiling face we recognise the unmistakable lineaments of William the Fourth. The sun proved not unmindful of the attention; for, on the formation of Earl Grey's ministry in 1830, Mr. Brougham was made Lord Chancellor, with the title of Baron Brougham and Vaux. The appointment took the nation by surprise; for although a consistent upholder of Whig principles, he had always maintained a peculiar and independent position with his party, and was expected to prove rather an embarrassment than otherwise. These expectations were fully realized, and there can be no doubt that the sentiments which Lord Brougham's bearing as Chancellor excited among his colleagues and contemporaries, excluded him for the remainder of his life from all official life and employment.
With all his wonderful powers, however, Lord Brougham could make, as O'Connell asserted of him, as inconsiderate a speech as any man. One of these speeches, which was delivered on the 14th of August, 1833, in a debate on the bill for the abolition of slavery in the West Indies, suggested to HB a happy subject. His lordship is reported to have said that, "the object of the clause [then under discussion] was to make the black, from the moment that he arrived on the shores of this country, a free man in all respects: to make him eligible to sit in Parliament, either in the House of Lords, if it should be his Majesty's pleasure to give him a title to a seat, or in the other House if he should be elected." HB, with his usual facility for seizing an idea, took his lordship at his word, and forthwith elevated the emancipated "nigger" to the woolsack, clothing him in the wig and gown of Lord Chancellor Brougham, and giving him the features of the noble and learned lord himself: this sketch bears the title of A Select Specimen of the Black Style.
The House of Lords was a lively place whilst my Lord Chancellor Brougham was in office, and in the "scenes" in which he figured, and which drew down upon him the hatred and resentment of his contemporaries, he not unfrequently displayed a want of judgment which was nothing less than lamentable. We might give many instances of these regrettable scenes, but one shall suffice. On the 29th of September, 1831, the Lord Chancellor made the following answer to a question put by the Marquis of Londonderry:—"My lords," he said, "I beg to state to you once for all, that I will not sit here to be bothered with questions which emanate from the ridiculous ideas of certain absurd individuals who cannot or will not see anything, however clear, and seem lamentably incapacitated by nature from comprehending what is going on. Moreover, I beg to state to the noble marquis, that for the future I will answer no question of his,—will give him no information whatever." The amazed patrician said in reply, "As to the language which the noble and learned lord has ventured to apply to me here, I will only say that I shall wish those words to be repeated in another place." The Lord Chancellor rejoined that he had said nothing which he was not prepared to repeat elsewhere; and here the matter appears to have ended, for strange to say it was the Marquis of Londonderry and not the irascible Brougham who subsequently apologised, a circumstance which occasioned the artist's satirical and telling sketch of The Duel that did Not Take Place. These scenes do not appear to have been the result of any mere ebullition of temper; on the contrary, Brougham would seem to have delighted in these undignified exhibitions. "The Chancellor, who loves to unbosom himself to Sefton, because he knows the latter thinks him the finest fellow breathing, tells him that it is nuts to him to be attacked by noble lords in the Upper House, and that they had better leave him alone if they care for their own hides. Since he loves these assaults, last night," continues Mr. Greville, "he got his bellyful, for he was baited by a dozen at least, and he did not come out of the mêlée so chuckling and happy as usual."
Parliament was dissolved on the 15th of August, 1834, and by that time his party, the king, and everybody else, had grown pretty well tired of Lord Chancellor Brougham. His head would seem to have been almost turned by his success; for he employed the recess which followed the prorogation in making a sort of royal progress through Scotland, parading the Great Seal on his way, to the great disgust of the king, who seriously thought he had. taken leave of his senses, and protested against it being carried across the border. In the course of this strange progress he reached Inverness in the beginning of September, 1834, and was presented by the magistrates with the freedom of their city. In returning thanks for this honour, Lord Brougham said he was conscious "that it was not owing to any personal merits that he had received this mark of distinction at their hands. First of all he owed it to the circumstance that he had the honour of serving a monarch who lived in the hearts of his subjects. He had enjoyed the honour of serving that prince for nearly four years, and during that time he had experienced from his Majesty only one series of gracious condescension, confidence, and favour. To find that he lived in the hearts of his loyal subjects in the ancient and important capital of the Highlands, as it had afforded him (Lord Brougham) only pure and unmixed satisfaction, would, he was confident, be so received by his Majesty, when he (Lord Brougham) told him, as he would by that night's post (cheers), of the gratifying circumstances." So far, however, from being gratified, the bluff sailor king was tremendously annoyed. These fulsome adulations, and the ridiculous manner in which his eccentric and embarrassing Chancellor tortured any personal attention to himself (Brougham) into a personal compliment to his royal master, thoroughly disgusted him. For some weeks previously The Times had attacked the eccentric Chancellor with a constancy and vigour of satire quite unexampled; the tide of ridicule was swelled by contributions from the London and provincial press; Brougham made some foolish speeches at Aberdeen and Dundee, which excited the laughter of his enemies and the alarm of his friends. "Those who are charitably disposed," remarks the unfriendly Greville, "express their humane conviction that he is mad, and it probably is not very remote from the truth."
Intellectually strong as he was, a Chancellor so eccentric as this was an incubus to be got rid of at the first convenient opportunity. In May, 1834, Mr. Stanley, Sir James Graham, the Earl of Ripon, and the Duke of Richmond, seceded from the ministry; but the Whig party, in spite of these resignations and the subsequent one of Lord Grey in July, continued in office under Lord Althorp till the following November, when the latter being called (by the death of his father) to the Upper House as Earl Spencer, the king seized the opportunity which he had so long desired of placing a less embarrassing and self-willed Chancellor on the woolsack. This circumstance prompted the clever sketch of the Fall of Icarus. Icarus in this instance is of course Brougham, who, flying in defiance of the injunctions of Daedalus too near the sun that is to say, William the Fourth—the wax of his mechanical wings melted and he fell into the sea. That there may be no mistake as to the artist's meaning, the wings aforesaid are labelled with the titles of various publications which were loudest in sounding the praises of the King and of the "noble and learned lord," and to which he himself, with the questionable taste which distinguished him, was reputed (with justice) to be a contributor.
Whether my Lord Chancellor Brougham caught the infection from his client, Queen Caroline, we know not; but his conduct, whether in or out of office, appears to have been of the most undignified character. Ignoring the fact that his party were no longer in power, there is no doubt whatever that he wrote a letter to his successor, Lord Lyndhurst, actually suggesting his own nomination to Lyndhurst's vacant office of Chief Baron of the Exchequer, thereby (as he pointed out) saving to the public his own pension of ex-Chancellor. What his real motive may have been is of little consequence; it was certainly a most undignified proceeding, made the more undignified, if possible, because the proposal was not accepted. It suggested to the artist one of his pictorial puns, The Vaux and the Grapes, and to the Rev. Richard Harris Barham the following amusing verses, which we have extracted from a contemporary poetical skit:—
"Then in Great Stanhope Street
The confusion was great
In a certain superb habi-tation,
Where seated at tea,
O'er a dish of Bohea,
Brougham was quaffing his 'usual potation'
(For you know his indignant ne-gation,
When accused once of jollifi-cation),
Down went saucer and cup,
Which Le Marchant picked up,
Not to hear his lord mutter 'd—n-ation.'
But this greatest of men
Soon caught hold of a pen,
And, after slight delibe-ration,
No longer he tosses
His flexile proboscis
About in so much exci-tation;
But scribbling with great ani-mation,
He sends off a communi-cation:—
'Dearest Lyndhurst,' says he,
'Can't you find room for me
When constructing your adminis-tration?
Though the Times says I'm mad,
And each rascally Rad
Abuses my tergiversation;
Though those humbugs, the Whigs,
Swear that my "thimble-rigs"
Were the cause of all their vacill-ation;
The whole story's a base fabri-cation
To damage my great reputa-tion;
So now to be brief,
Only make me Lord Chief,
And I'll serve without remuner-ation!'
When he found 'twas ' no go,'
And that Lyndhurst and Co.
Were deaf to all solici-tation,
As 'twas useless with Lyndy
To kick up a shindy,
He resolved upon peregrin-ation.
Not waiting for much prepa-ration,
He bolted with precipi-tation;
A sad loss, I ween,
To Charles Knight's magazine,
And to Stinkomalee edu-cation."
Lord Brougham, indeed, by his despotic, intractable conduct, had thoroughly shut himself out from all chance of office. Sir Robert Peel's Conservative ministry lasted till April, 1835, when a second Whig government came into power, under the premiership of Lord Melbourne, and from the re-constructed cabinet, Brougham much to his own surprise, but to the surprise of no one else was excluded.
Irish Disaffection.Irish disaffection was, unfortunately, as stale a subject in 1833 as in 1883. For what particular sins of her own England has been cursed with a neighbour so bloodthirsty, so unreasonable, and so troublesome as Ireland, it would be difficult to say. Although we had no Irish Americans—no cowardly "dynamitards"—in those days, Ireland was nevertheless in a state of chronic disaffection, and an "Irish Coercion Bill" was found just as necessary to restrain the excitement of Irish political malcontents in 1833 as in 1883. Irish history, in this respect at least, has a method of repeating itself which is singularly embarrassing, and the student of the history of Irish disaffection cannot fail to be interested in the statement with which Lord Grey introduced his measure fifty years ago. We learn from this statement that a state of things existed little short of actual rebellion. Bodies of men were collected and arrayed by signals, evidently directed by a system of organization in which many were combined, and such system was conducted in a manner which had hitherto set at defiance all the exertions of law and order. The disturbers of the peace prescribed the terms on which land was to be let, and any one who presumed to disobey their orders was subject to have his property destroyed or be put to death. The reign of terror was complete. The organization which supplied the place of the Land League of to-day dictated what persons should employ and be employed; and while they forbad labourers from working for obnoxious masters on the one hand, they prevented a master on the other from employing as labourers any but those who were obedient to their orders. They enforced their decrees by acts of cruelty and outrage; by spoliation, murder, attacks on houses in the dead of night; by dragging the inmates from their beds and so maltreating them that death often ensued, or by inflicting cruelties which were sometimes worse than death. The persons belonging to this organization assembled by signals, made concerted movements, watched the movements of the troops, and by information received so avoided them that the military were rendered practically useless.
The ordinary tribunals were powerless to arrest this iniquitous organization of murder and terror, which the Irish disaffectants and their advisers even in that day appear to have brought to a system of execrable perfection. Witnesses and jurors were terrified into silence. In one case the master of a female servant was commanded to dismiss her because her mother had given evidence against a person brought to trial for a capital crime, and similar cases were of almost daily occurrence. Five armed men went to the house of Patrick Lalor, a man of nearly seventy years of age, and shot him through the body. His crime had been disobedience to a mandate to give up some ground which he held contrary to the will of the Terrorists. The same system prevented a son of Lalor, and an eye-witness of his murder, from giving evidence against his murderers. On the trial of these miscreants at Kilkenny assizes, the jury not being able to agree was dismissed. It had been arranged in the jury-room that nothing should transpire as to the opinions of individual jurymen, and yet, in half an hour, the names of those in favour of an acquittal or of a conviction were printed—the former in black, and the latter, or as they were designated the "jurors who were for blood," in red ink. The result was that those whose names were printed in red were obliged to leave the country. At the Clonmel assizes the previous October (1832), when a person was to be tried for resisting the payment of tithe, only 76 jurors out of 265 who had been summoned made their appearance. A gentleman had been murdered in sight of his own gate in consequence of some dispute in connection with tithes. The answer of his son-in-law, summoned by the coroner to give evidence against the supposed murderer, was this: "That he would submit to any penalty the crown or the law would impose upon him, but he would not appear at the trial, because he knew that if he stood forward as a witness his life would inevitably be forfeited." The Irish Government received a notice from Kilkenny "that many gentlemen who had always" most conscientiously discharged their duties, "would not attend at the next assizes. They cared not what penalty was imposed upon them. They refused to attend, because they knew that death" awaited them if they dared to do their duty. "It is the boast of the prisoners," continued this document, "that they cannot under existing circumstances be found guilty." Under such a disgraceful state of things, outrage had become of course triumphant. The sickening catalogue of Irish cruelty and crime during the previous year comprised 172 homicides, 465 robberies, 568 burglaries, 455 acts of houghing of cattle, 2,095 illegal notices, 425 illegal meetings, 796 malicious injuries to property, 753 attacks on houses, 280 arsons, 3,156 serious assaults, making an aggregate of crimes of every description during the year, connected with the disturbed state of the country, exceeding 9,000 in number, and the number was evidently still on the increase.
Effect of the Irish Coercion Bill of 1833.The third reading of the Coercion Bill was carried in the Commons on the 29th of March, by 345 to 86, and the Act was to continue in force till the 1st of August, 1834. It led of course to many scenes in the House between English and Irish members, although the Irish members of that day, to do them simple justice, had not graduated in the aggravated system of obstruction they have since developed, and thereby earned for themselves the character of political nuisances. One of these scenes led to the sketch entitled Prisoners of War, which has reference to a seriocomic interlude, in which the principal performers were Lord Althorp and Mr. Shiel, member for Tipperary. On the 5th of February, 1834, Lord Althorp charged (without naming them) certain Irish members who had particularly distinguished themselves by violent opposition to the Bill in the House, with using very different language in reference to it in private conversation. Up then rose one Irish member after another, inquiring if he was the person alluded to. To Mr. O'Connell and Mr. Finn the answer was in the negative, while Mr. Shiel was given directly to understand that he was one of the members intended, his lordship declining at the same time to name his authority, but avowing his belief in the truth of the story, and his willingness to take upon himself the full responsibility. The result of course was a "scene." Mr. Shiel, after the manner of fire-eating Irishmen of that day, having hinted his intention to demand satisfaction elsewhere, Sir Francis Burdett arose and said that, unless the "honourable members pledged themselves to preserve the peace, he should instantly move that they be committed to the custody of the Serjeant-at-arms." As neither of the parties would give such assurance, the motion was put from the chair and carried. The Prisoners of War portrayed in the sketch are of course Mr. Shiel and Lord Althorp. After a brief absence from the House, each having given the required assurance was discharged from custody, and there the matter ended. The benefits of the Act were almost immediately made apparent. The association, which called itself, by the way, "The Irish Volunteers" (the Land League of 1833), was promptly suppressed by the Lord Lieutenant; and the list of offences during the month of March which preceded and the month of May which followed the passing of the Act most conclusively proved its efficiency, for, while in the former month the records of crime in eleven counties reached a sum total of 472, they had declined in the latter month to 162.
O'Connell.Irish agitators of the nineteenth century are all more or less "tarred with the same brush," but the conditions under which an Irish agitator of 1883–4 must be content to figure in that character are, it must be remembered, widely different from those which influenced the agitators of 1833. The Irish "Home Rulers" have sown the wind and have reaped the whirlwind which carries them along in its progress, and we doubt whether if they wished to stop the hideous Frankenstein they have created, it would allow them to do so. The Home Rulers, however, are not in any way to be pitied. Not content with Land League terrorism, they sought to force their measures upon John Bull himself by an unheard-of system of parliamentary obstruction, which has inevitably recoiled upon themselves. O'Connell was far too sharp-sighted—far too intelligent and clever a man to make so grave a mistake as this. By the sheer force of his genius he exercised for many years of his life a most powerful influence on English politics. He figures in one of John Doyle's sketches in the character ascribed to him probably by most of his contemporaries. In the sketch referred to, the Governor of Barataria is represented by the typical Irish peasant; O'Connell appears in the character of the Doctor; and Lord John Russell as the attendant and amused servitor. Pat's eagerness to enjoy the good things he has been led to expect, and his mortification at their being removed out of reach and out of sight are ridiculously rendered.
We must not be misunderstood; although O'Connell had far greater personal influence over the Irish than his successors, he was for all that in political matters eminently unscrupulous. At the general election of 1835, the avowed principles on which he stood forth as a candidate were: repeal of the union,—universal suffrage, vote by ballot,—triennial parliaments,—and the abolition of tithes. "I am," he said, "decidedly for the vote by ballot. Whoever votes by ballot votes as he pleases, and no one need know how he votes." Yet, in spite of these avowed principles, he controlled the election of Irish candidates after the following fashion:—The Knight of Kerry started as a candidate for his native county, but dared to avow his intention to take an independent course. He had spent all his life in resisting Orangemen, and yet O'Connell said, "Every one who dares to vote for the Orange knight of Kerry shall have a death's head and cross-bones painted on his door." The voters at the Irish elections were collected in the chapels by the priests, and led forth to the poll under threats of being refused all the rites and visited with all the punishments of their Church. Under these influences, the Knight of Kerry, supported by nearly all the property, intelligence, and respectability of the county, was defeated. Of a candidate for New Ross who had refused to enlist under his banner, O'Connell said, "Whoever shall support him his shop shall be deserted, no man shall pass his threshold; put up his name as a traitor to Ireland; let no man speak to him; let the children laugh him to scorn." His example was followed of course by his lieutenants. It says something for Irish independence that these unscrupulous "dodges" were not always successful; and O'Connell himself, and his colleague, Mr. Ruthven, secured their own seats by comparatively small majorities. At the previous flection O'Connell had obtained a majority of 1,549. and Mr Ruthven of 1,490 above the highest Conservative candidate: at the election in 1835, O'Connell's majority had fallen to 217, and Mr. Ruthven's to 169. The "Irish agitator" was manifestly no favourite with HB, who depicted him as the comet of 1835. Comets being supposed by the vulgar to portend disaster, it is represented as leaving Ireland in a flame, and passing over St. George's Channel to exercise a malign influence on peaceful England. The head of course is that of O'Connell, while the tail is studded with the countenances of the Irish members who made up his "following." In a previous sketch he had figured as the Wolf to Lord John Russell's "Little Red Riding Hood," in allusion to a statement made by the opposition journals that the Government had made a league with the restless agitator with the view of securing his support in the House of Commons. We have heard something very like this lately, in relation to what is now known as the "Kilmainham Treaty."
Sir Robert Peel. The rapidity with which John Doyle caught an inspiration from a few chance words in a speech, may be aptly illustrated by the manner in which he served Sir Robert Peel. On the occasion of his being installed Lord Rector of Glasgow University, in November, 1836, the distinguished statesman made a speech to his patrons, in which he meant to tell them that, admiring Scotland and Scottish scenery, he thought the best mode of seeing both was on horseback instead of travelling in a public or private conveyance. He expressed the idea, however, in the following round-about fashion:—"I wished," he said, "to see something of Scotland which I could not have seen from the windows of a luxurious carriage; I wished to see other habits and manners of life than those which the magnificent hospitable castles of the nobility presented. Yes," he continued, "in Glasgow I hired an humble but faithful steed; I travelled partly on horseback and partly on foot through almost every county that lies southern of Inverness; I have read the map of Scotland upon the great scale of nature, from the summits of Ben Nevis and Ben Lomond; I have visited that island whence savage and roaming bands derived the benefits of knowledge and the blessings of religion. Yes, amid the ruins of Iona I have abjured the rigid philosophy which would conduct us indifferent and unmoved over any ground that has been dignified by wisdom, by bravery, and by virtue. I have stood on the shores of Staffa,—I have seen the temple not built with hands,—I have seen the mighty swell of the ocean,—the waves of the great Atlantic beating in its inmost recesses, and swelling notes of praise nobler than ever pealed from human organs." Well, other tourists besides the statesman have stood on the summit of Ben Nevis and Ben Lomond,—have visited Staffa and Iona,—and yet, the rigid philosophy which Sir Robert credited himself for abjuring, has unconsciously conducted them comparatively "indifferent and unmoved" over much ground that may have been "dignified by wisdom, by bravery," and even "by virtue." The stilted remarks of Sir Robert will serve to remind some of us of the very original sentiments we find recorded in "visitors' books" of sundry home and continentals hotels much affected by members of the gushing order of travellers. Some such idea seems to have struck the artist; for in his next satire Sir Robert very deservedly figured as Dr. Syntax setting out on his Humble but Faithful Steed in Search of the Picturesque.
As a rule the titles of these sketches, which reach the amazing number of nine hundred and seventeen, afford no clue whatever to their subject matter. Here are the titles of a few, taken at random from the general bulk:—An Affair of Honour; A Group of Sporting Characters at Epsom; A Nice Distinction, or a Hume-iliating Rejoinder to a Warlike Ap-Peel; A Political Ruse; Swearing the Horatii; Retaliation; Goody Two Shoes turned Barber; State Cricket Match; Taking an Airing in Hyde Park;—and so on. A description, however short, of the events to which these "Political Sketches" refer, would occupy probably a couple of volumes; and, following the course which we have hitherto adopted, we have preferred to make selection of a few which seemed to us—either from the persons satirized or the scenes in which they figure likely to interest the general reader. Thackeray said of them at the time they were appearing, "You never hear any laughing at HB, his pictures are a great deal too genteel for that,—polite points of wit which strike one as exceedingly clever and pretty, and cause one to smile in a quiet, gentlemanlike kind of way." Forty-two years have elapsed since this was written;—the sketches fail now almost to provoke the "gentlemanlike kind" of smile mentioned by the humourist, for the events and the persons which caused it and to which they relate have alike passed away out of sight and out of memory.
Faults of the "Sketches."The number which they attained is due no doubt in a large measure to the facility with which they were produced. They were all drawn on stone, and exhibit the faults so often to be found in the productions of artists who confine themselves to this material, which, owing to the comparative facility of the process, has a tendency to induce a slovenliness in execution unusual with artists accustomed to the careful discipline under which a successful etching on steel or copper can alone be produced. A writer in Blackwood says with much truth that HB "would have been a greater artist had he worked on the same material and with the same tools as Gillray and Cruikshank, but we should probably not have possessed so complete a gallery of portraits, comprising all the men of note who took part in political affairs from before the passing of the Catholic Relief Bill until after the repeal of the Corn Laws, a period more eventful than any of a similar length since the Revolution of 1688." John Doyle, too, had no great powers of sarcasm, and he was timid in design, contenting himself with as few figures as were possible for the purposes of his drawings. Robert William Buss, himself a comic artist of ability, in his brief notice of him charges him with a certain feebleness in the attitude of the persons who figure in his sketches, and gives us to understand that to balance a figure properly requires a knowledge and practice in drawing to which HB was a stranger; and further, that by reason of the absence of such knowledge and practice, he falls far behind Hogarth, Gillray, Bunbury, Rowlandson, or the Cruikshanks. With these artists indeed, as we have endeavoured to show, John Doyle has nothing in common, and he evidently designed that no comparison should ever be instituted between any one of them and himself. His chief merits are to be found in the facility with which he grasped an idea; the harmlessness and playfulness of his satire, which wrought a complete revolution in the style and manner of caricaturists; and above all in the excellence of his likenesses. The best and most graceful of the series was 'produced just after the wedding of her Majesty, and is a transcript (as it were) of Stothard's beautiful design of The Procession of the Flitch of Bacon, the leading personages being the young Queen and the late Prince Consort, whose portraits are admirably executed. Towards the close of the series they show signs of failing power, not unnatural in an artist who during a course of twenty years had produced upwards of a thousand drawings. I have seen it somewhere stated that this deterioration dates from the period when the identity of HB was discovered; but inasmuch as this secret had been practically revealed long before the decadence commences, there is no just ground for any such assumption.
The reputation of the "Political Sketches" was, however, ephemeral, and considering their popularity and the eagerness with which they were bought up at the time, it is surprising how completely they have passed into oblivion. The name of HB, or of John Doyle, is now not only "caviare to the general," but it is amazing how little until lately he was known even to men not altogether ignorant on the subject of satirical art. A gentleman to whom I am indebted for some valuable information, tells me that some three or four years since "a large number of original sketches (not the engravings) were catalogued and announced for sale at Christies'. I went," he says, "possibly to buy several, but (and it is curious as showing the decadent interest in the pictures) no sale took place, because I was told there was no one to buy. I think," my informant adds, "that I was the only person, or nearly the only person, in the room." Distinguished people, however, had been to look at the drawings, and among them the late Lord Beaconsfield.
The success of the artist produced, of course, a number of imitators. Their productions were of various degrees of merit; but like most imitations they generally accentuated the faults without reproducing the excellencies of the model. Some of them are entitled "Political Hits," "Royal Ramblings," "The Belgian Trip," "Parisian Trip," and so on; some are signed "Philo H. B.," "H. H.," "B. H.," while others have neither initials or signature. They comprise some eighty or a hundred plates at least, many of which were probably suppressed, whilst others no doubt served the useful purposes of the greengrocer, the bookbinder, or the trunkmaker; and if, as 'we are told—
"Imperial Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away;"
there can be nothing after all very dishonourable or very surprising in their ultimate destination.
The artist died in 1868.
- Annual Register, 1836, p. 237
- 1836, p. 244. Mr. Baldwin (one of the proprietors of the Standard newspaper) stated that " if the bill passed in its present shape, it would deteriorate his property fifty per cent., and would operate in the same way with all property of that description." Ibid., p. 247.
- Greville's "Memoirs," pp. 3, 71.
- In which Lord Brougham took a special interest.
- Greville's "Memoirs," ii., p. 148.
- For the silly and spiteful observations made in this speech, see "Annual Register," 1825, p. 43.
- Greville's "Memoirs," iii. p. 85.
- Inverness Courier, Sept. 3rd (quoted in "Annual Register," 1854, p. 129).
- From a nervous habit he had contracted of twitching his nose Lord Brougham was known to his contemporaries by the nickname of "Jemmy Twitcher."
- On this occasion the Great Seal was reserved and for the time put in commission, the commissioners being Sir Charles Pepys (Master of the Rolls), Vice Chancellor Shadwell, and Mr. Justice Bosanquet. Eventually it was presented to Sir Charles Pepys (Lord Cottenham), and the slight produced such a stunning effect on Brougham that he retired from active public life for a time, and sought solace in the pursuit and study of literature and philosophy.
- For this interesting table, see "Annual Register," 1833, p. 83.
- One whose name is unconnected with any honourable action, whose whole life has been one scene of skulking from dangers into which he had drawn others, and who is occupied from one end of the year to the other in devising plans of drawing enormous fortunes from squalid beggary."—Dr. Maginn.
- Vol. xciv., August, 1863.