ROMANTICISM AND CARICATURE by Ian Haywood, Reviewed by Brian Bates

By Ian Haywood
(Cambridge, 2013) xiv + 226 pp.
Reviewed by Brian Bates on 2014-12-29.

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This book examines the raucous power, complex politics, and intertextual workings of visual caricature in Great Britain from the 1790s to the first Reform Act of 1832. Through close, contextual readings of single-print caricatures by James Gillray, George Cruikshank and Thomas Rowlandson, Haywood shines a revealing light on the dark, carnivalesque art of the caricaturist, which he dubs "renegade Romanticism" (6). With fifty illustrations, this book offers a feast for the eyes that demonstrates the need to read visual caricature as closely as Romantic period literary texts and paintings. In a series of case studies, Haywood's seven chapters convincingly elevate early nineteenth-century caricature from its longstanding rank as a low, sensational form to a dynamic, multifaceted participant in public debates about major issues: the French (and Spanish) Revolution and Napoleon, radical politics and freedom of the press, loyalist propaganda and government repression, economic forgeries and spectro-political enfranchisement.

In each chapter Haywood centers his argument on one caricature print. After briefly reading that caricature, he examines its political, cultural and intertextual contexts in order to explain more fully its formal and aesthetic qualities. Haywood often reveals the double edges of the politically labile caricatures of Gillray, Cruikshank, and Rowlandson. Even when seemingly focused on satirizing the radical left, they also often skewer the loyalist right. Also, nearly every chapter shows how these Romantic-era caricaturists use Milton's Sin and Death to proclaim the cultural and aesthetic power of visual caricature. Filtered through Hogarth's caricatures and Edmund Burke's theories of the sublime, Sin and Death come to embody the monstrously fecund and destructive energies of Romantic period visual caricature.

Chapter one, for instance, shows how Milton's "porno-political" tableau of Satan, Sin, and Death at the gates of Hell was often reconfigured and redeployed in eighteenth-century illustrations, leading to "the satirical reinvention and appropriation of Milton that ran in parallel with the more renowned Romantic 'Satanisation'" (23, 28). These renderings of Milton's parodic allegory of the Trinity and the dangers of visual gratification illustrate the subversive power, visual horrors, and imaginative freedoms of Romantic period caricature. Recalling this genealogy, Gillray's Sin, Death and the Devil (1792, see below) asserts the rights of visual caricature: in a revolutionary age riddled with anxiety, it could attack both radical print culture and authoritarian government practices.

Chapter two highlights the caricaturists' responses to the Bank Restriction Act (1797), which shadowed the counterfeiting crisis that beset England until 1821. By expanding the use of paper money, the bank act alternately safeguarded and undermined England's credit system. Visual caricatures stressed the latter fact, showing how the act injured public trust while thousands were prosecuted and hundreds executed for forgery. During this period of rampant counterfeiting, Haywood maintains that caricature flourished: "Relatively untouched by legal prosecutions, unburdened by the aesthetics of originality, masterful in creating allegorical fantasies of politics and culture, firmly embedded in reportage and print culture, the single-print caricature circulated like a shadow economy of symbolic representation, pumping out 'phantom' versions of political leaders, authority figures and celebrity" (57). Gillray in particular was anything but deferential to authority figures. On the one hand, as we learn from chapter three, Gillary accepted a government pension, worked for the Tory Anti-Jacobin Review, and created for it a four-part caricature tableau entitled Exhibition of a Democratic Transparency (1799), featuring the Bank of England, the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament, and St. James. On the other hand, while the print seems to attack secret, radical societies, Haywood demonstrates that it also undermined loyalist ideology by exposing its paranoid fantasies about Jacobin conspiracies to take over England.

Turning from Gillray to Rowlandson, chapter four examines The Two Kings of Terror (1813, above), wherein a seated Napoleon and his skeleton-doppleganger Death gaze at each other while the "battle of nations" at Leipzig unfolds in the background. Haywood argues that this print demonizes Napoleon while also warning of the dangers of blind English loyalism, militarism and hero worship. After analyzing this pre-Waterloo depiction of Napoleon as the companion of Death, Haywood fascinatingly explores Rowlandson's serial prints The English Dance of Death (1814-1816), which were produced during Napoleon's exile from France. Several of these prints, Haywood shows, not only feature the dark antics of "Death" but also imply that Napoleon's spirit has invaded the English countryside by way of English radicalism. But as in Gillray's Exhibition caricatures, we also learn that Rowlandson's caricatures attack the paranoid visions of the loyalist right, which hyperbolically figure the demonic workings of the radical left.

Turning next to theatrical stagings of populist politics after the Peterloo massacre of 1819, Haywood demonstrates how Cruikshank's caricature The Age of Reason (1819) raises the demon specter of Tom Paine in order to exercise and lambaste discourses about English infidelism. The central figure in Cruikshank's print is the radical publisher Richard Carlile, who a few months earlier had been prosecuted for publishing several of Paine's theological works. In apocalyptically depicting Carlile's resurrection of Paine, Cruikshank ties post-Peterloo Regency radicalism to incendiary, phantasmagoric visions of Jacobin fervor in the 1790s.

Building on this narrative of resurrected English radicalism, chapter six analyzes Cruikshank's and Hone's three-panel wood cut caricature "Damnable Association," which appeared in their mock-broadside newspaper A Slap at Slop (1821). "Damnable Association" targets an established group of ultra-conservatives--"the Bridge Street Gang"--that sought to prosecute radical publications. This triptych caricature treats their prosecutions of the English press as reincarnations of the Spanish Inquisition. Cruikshank and Hone thus highlight public discourses that intertwined the post-Peterloo fate of Britain with the gothic politics of the Peninsular War, Spanish Revolution, and constitutionalism (1808-1823). Beyond showing how this wildly popular caricature satirizes both loyalist fantasies and radical anxieties about a British Inquisition, Haywood traces the remarkable influence of its wood-cut medium on late Romantic and Victorian caricatures.

Moving beyond the era of Gillray, George Cruikshank, and Rowlandson, the final chapter examines Matchless Eloquence (1831), a set of duplicate caricatures by William Heath and Charles James Grant (which is the duplicate is uncertain). Featuring junior MP Henry Hunt during the Reform Bill crisis (1831-1832), this work depicts his first major speech before the House of Commons as a spewing of his famous blacking shoe polish on his fellow representatives. Beyond satirizing Hunt and his political opposition, Matchless Eloquence recalls the prosecution of the Swing Rioters (1830), the in-process Reform Bill (passed in June 1832), and the prosecution of radical newspapers that were being published without stamps. Haywood also explains how visual caricatures critiqued the politics behind the Reform Bill as an escapist fantasy of national stability and masculine contentment: a fantasy belied by the continuing fight for enfranchisement and heated debates about the Corn Laws.

The methodology of this finely written and well-researched book yields fascinating and provocative insights. But the book ends abruptly. It could have used a conclusion that linked the implications of its final chapter to the preceding chapters, which so often astutely tie Regency radicalism to radical discourses of the 1790s. Moreover, Haywood's one sentence chapter summaries in the "Introduction" do little justice to the depth of his analyses and the complexities of his chapters, which richly illuminate the works of his chosen caricaturists.

The strengths of Haywood's argument also suggest the book's weaknesses. His concentrated examinations of caricatures by Gillray, Cruikshank, and Rowlandson are unapologetically canonical. As much as Haywood recovers contexts that nurtured Romantic period caricature, the bulk of early nineteenth-century caricaturists go unremarked. Are most Romantic period caricatures as nuanced and seemingly untouched by the law as the works of the big three discussed here? Did other caricaturists also often skewer both sides of the political divide? Were there equally popular female caricaturists? Those important questions fall outside the purview of Haywood's arguments, leaving ample room for future scholars to build on his focused work, which is essential reading for scholars of British Romanticism.

Brian R. Bates is the author of Wordsworth's Poetic Collections, Supplementary Writing and Parodic Reception, reviewed elsewhere on this site.

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