Political Satire: Early 19th Century Caricatures

Earlier this evening I enjoyed

by James Gillray

a Ticknor Society event in which Tom Michalak talked about early 19th century British caricatures, focusing on political caricatures and pamphlets about King George IV and Queen Caroline. Tom presented many caricatures from his own extensive collection and entertained us with details of – the very public – love affairs of the Prince of Wales before he became King George IV. The caricatures were widely popular and in 1820, 250,000 copies of a collection of five pamphlets were sold (see here and here for individual titles). King George IV himself had a collection of 9,000 caricatures which were sold to the Library of Congress by King Georg VI to pay, according to Tom, for his stamp collection.

Print shops were the main channel for selling the caricatures or, for those who could not afford to buy them, renting a portfolio for an evening. Emily Brand offers this observation by a contemporary on the scene depicted in the Gillray print posted here :

“If men be fighting [across the Channel] for their possessions and their bodies against the Corsican robber [Napoleon], they are fighting here to be the first [to] see Gillray’s latest caricatures. The enthusiasm is indescribable when the next drawing appears; it is a veritable madness. You have to make your way through the crowd with your fists.”

By the 1830s, technological advances facilitated the emergence of magazines dedicated to comic art (or “cartoons,” a word sense popularized by Punch, a magazine first published in 1841), replacing the print shop as the main distribution channel for this form of enlightenment and entertainment.

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