Tag Archives: political cartoons

Guest post: A coalition satire: an address of thanks to the broad-bottoms (1745)

This guest post comes from Dr Mark Truesdale, who completed his PhD in English Literature at Cardiff University in 2016. His thesis provides the first detailed, critical study of the fifteenth-century King and Commoner tradition, and traces its post-medieval influence in ballads and drama from the sixteenth-century to the eighteenth-century. Mark is currently volunteering with Special Collections, assisting with cataloguing early modern books and reporting findings to the English Short Title Catalogue.


An Address of Thanks to the Broad-Bottoms, for the Good Things they have done, and the Evil Things they have not done, Since their Elevation’ (1745) is a curious eighteenth-century satirical pamphlet in Cardiff University’s Rare Book Collection that is about politics rather than bottoms (alas). But it feels surprisingly modern and pertinent in its message, full of biting comments against untrustworthy and greedy politicians who immediately abandon their principles and pledges for a seat in a coalition government.

Title page

Amid the televised scenes of the 2017 general election and its result of a hung parliament was the sight of a highly despondent Nick Clegg. Clegg, the former deputy Prime Minister, had lost his Sheffield seat to a first-time Labour candidate (who was reportedly so surprised by his victory that he had to rush to a supermarket in the middle of the night to purchase a new suit). As Liberal Democrat leader in 2010, Clegg had entered into a coalition government with the Conservatives, only to be accused by many of selling his principles and abandoning his electoral promises in exchange for power. His subsequent dramatic fall from public opinion starkly shows the potential dangers of entering such political coalitions and pacts, especially as a ‘junior partner’ with little real sway.

This coalition trade-off of principles for power is also the focus of ‘An Address of Thanks to the Broad Bottoms’, an anonymous fifty-two page pamphlet which shows that public anger over untrustworthy politicians and a lack of respect for those in authority is certainly nothing new. The work opens with a wonderfully lurid engraving by William Hogarth that shows Tory politicians, with exceptionally large and flabby bottoms, defecating onto several donkeys lurking anxiously below. The donkeys are symbolically burdened with labelled loads, ranging from ‘Land Tax’, the infamous ‘Black Act’, and ‘Lottery annuities’ (an anxious topic since the South Sea Bubble caused economic collapse in the 1720s), or goods such as ‘Malt’, ‘Salt’, ‘Wine’, ‘Candles’, and of course ‘Tea’. The main thrust of the work is an angry critique of the Tory ministers who had joined Henry Pelham’s 1744 ‘broad-bottomed’ coalition government and allegedly abandoned their own opposition principles in exchange for wealth and honours.

The pamphlet is divided into three distinct parts. The first is a pointed musing on the evils of ‘ingratitude’, criticising those who ‘do not return the Benefits they have reciev’d, if it ’tis in their power to do so’ (p. 3) – alluding to the ‘Broad-Bottom’ Tory ministers who had failed to fulfil their election pledges and aid their supporters after gaining coalition positions of power. The writer uses fables by Pliny and Aulus Gellius to claim that even animals display gratitude, thereby concluding that politicians who display a lack of gratitude for their supporters are ‘worse than Brutes’, while those who go further by ‘returning Evil for Good […] out-do their Brute Fellow-Creatures in Acts the most shocking and repugnant to Nature’ (p. 5). The writer proceeds to accuse the Tory ministers of putting their ‘private Self-interest’ over ‘Public Self-interest’ by allowing themselves to be used as puppets by those they had previously opposed:

for a Place or Pension that supplies his Luxury, he shall be a Puppet, to move up and down just as he is order’d by him who directs the Show from behind the Curtain […] The Live Puppet may move sometimes to please the gaping Spectators, but he sha’n’t open his Mouth. (pp. 7-8)

Detail from p. 7 of 'An Address of Thanks to the Broad-Bottoms'

The author builds on this image of a mute puppet to muse on the dire consequences of the opposition effectively silencing itself. He claims that such hypocritical ministers have betrayed ‘their Country’ and thrown ‘the People into despair, by depriving them of the Means of a legal and Seasonable Opposition’ (p. 8). In short, the Tories have undermined the democratic process, selling off their voice to allow the rule of an unchecked and unchallenged power.

The pamphlet’s second part is an eighteen page ‘John Bull’ allegory. John Bull is a national personification of England, or Britain more generally, who became a patriotic emblem during the Napoleonic Wars. But he was originally created in 1712 as a bumbling figure of ridicule by the Scottish satirist John Arbuthnot in pamphlets scornfully mocking England’s European conflicts, presenting the War of the Spanish Succession as a ludicrous ‘law suit’ between John Bull (England), Lewis Baboon (Louis XIV), and Lord Strutt (Philip of Anjou).

John Bull taking a luncheon, by James Gillray

John Bull taking a luncheon: – or – British cooks, cramming old grumble-gizzard, with bonne-chére, by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey, 24 October 1798. NPG D12661. © National Portrait Gallery, London

‘An Address to the Broad-Bottoms’ directly refers to Arbuthnot’s allegories and presents its tale as a continuation. Here, John Bull’s ‘manor’ stands in for England and its ‘tenants’ for the country’s people, while the politicians are given ludicrous pseudonyms: e.g. Robert Walpole becomes ‘Bob Bronze’ while Henry Pelham is called ‘Hall Stiff’. The Tories who joined Pelham’s coalition are unflatteringly referred to as the ‘Broad-Bottoms’ throughout. Continuing in much the same vein as the first part, the author tells of the rise of the Broad-Bottoms, who ‘set out, seemingly at least, on excellent Principles, which endeared them to most of the Tenants’ (pp. 17-18). However, after Bob Bronze’s fall:

Several […] of the Broad-Bottoms forced themselves into John Bull’s Service; where they were no sooner warm, than they forgot their Party, the Tenants, the Manor, their Professions, their Honour, every thing but pleasing their Employer, and filling their own Pockets. (p. 19)

The rest of the tale proceeds to give a condensed history of the Broad-Bottoms, with mocking allusions to the actions of various Tory ministers.

The final part of the pamphlet consists of a sardonic thank-you note addressed to those Tories. The author first sets down a lengthy list of the policies the Tories have reneged on, before demonstrating his own ‘gratitude’ by sarcastically thanking them for the many things they have not done:

And if you have done little for us, ’tis not impossible but you might have averted much Evil from us. ’Tis possible you might have prevented a Tax upon big Bellies, and Excise upon Urine […] And it is currently talk’d that you secretly oppos’d a Scheme […] for laying a Tax upon Honesty. I don’t wonder you should obstruct a Tax that would affect yourselves more than any People in the Kingdom. (pp. 41-42)

The author bitterly ends the pamphlet by emphasising that the Tory ministers’ perceived gains are woefully short-term in comparison with the long-term damage they have committed against their own cause:

Gentlemen, […] you have lost the People, without gaining the Court […] If you have as yet any Bowels for your Country, you can’t but reflect […] what an irreparable Injury you have done her by your late conduct […] All our future woes then, of Right, are to be plac’d at your Account; and therefore, such Thanks as you deserve, you have from me, who represent the Millions you have deceived. (pp. 51-52)

‘An Address of Thanks to the Broad-Bottoms’ seems remarkably pertinent as we enter a further period of uncertainty and coalitions, with a sceptical public and plummeting trust in perceivably self-interested politicians, who are besieged by unflattering media portrayals. It is often said that a day is a long time in politics. But sometimes, it seems that little really changes at all.

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Potent Ink and Political Satire

Today, I want to talk about cartoons. Come again? Is this librarian a complete Looney Tune? That may well be a matter of opinion, but the subject of this post has certainly got me animated, so by the Power of Greyskull, let’s turn our attention to the renowned cartoonist:

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J. M. Staniforth’s signature, Cartoons: originally published in the “Western Mail”, (Cardiff,Western Mail, 1908)

Joseph Morewood Staniforth was an editorial cartoonist best known for his work in the Western Mail (Cardiff’s daily paper), the Evening Express (Cardiff’s evening paper), and the News of the World (the Sunday paper).

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Portrait of J. M. Staniforth, Cartoons: originally published in the “Western Mail”, (Cardiff, Western Mail, 1908).

I initially became aware of him through the work of Professor Chris Williams, who has been diligently documenting and digitising the wartime newspaper cartoons of this unique artist. It seems we have here in Special Collections and Archives possibly the only copy of Football Cartoons & Rhymes compiled by Staniforth and a writer named Idris, and when Chris asked to see it, judging from the title, I presumed he was researching some traditional banter ready for the impending Rugby Six Nations!

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Rugby cartoon detail from J. M. Staniforth, Football cartoons & rhymes, (Cardiff, Western Mail, c. 1903)

However, I was soon to discover just how exceptional Staniforth’s work was, and indeed still is to anyone interested in the social, political, and cultural history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The fourth son of a saw repairer, Staniforth was born in Gloucester on the 16 of May 1863, and later grew up in Cardiff. At 15, he left school to train as a lithographic printer for the daily newspaper the Western Mail, whilst studying art in the evenings at the Cardiff School of Art which was initially established in rooms above the Royal Arcade in Cardiff city centre. Built in 1858, it is the oldest arcade in Cardiff, and, interestingly, the birthplace of our distant relative, Cardiff’s Free Library, set up through voluntary subscriptions above the St. Mary Street entrance to the arcade. But I digress! So back to the school of art, where another soon to be famous artist, the sculptor William Goscombe John was also learning his craft. Originally working with paint, Staniforth soon developed his technique in inks whereby with a fine pen and ink, he would compile his cartoon on paper which was then photographed onto a metal bloc used in the printing process. The Western Mail claimed to be the first regional newspaper to adopt this technique. He began drawing cartoons bearing his tell-tale monogram for the Evening Express and on occasions, for the Western Mail, where his skills as an illustrator were quickly spotted by the Mail’s editor, Henry Lascelles Carr, who swiftly transferred him to the editorial team. Following Carr’s takeover and restyling of the Sunday News of the World in 1893, Staniforth’s cartoons were given prime-place on the front page of every issue. By 1900, his cartoons were a regular feature in the Western Mail.

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‘Martyrs of the Arena’, Cartoons: originally published in the Western Mail: Vol II, (Cardiff, Western Mail, c. 1910)

The News of the World and the Western Mail were amongst the first newspapers to use cartoons as a means of political and social commentary rather than purely comic distractions. Sir Francis Carruthers Gould is generally regarded as the first cartoonist on a British daily newspaper, drawing as he did for the Pall Mall Gazette from 1888 followed by the Westminster Gazette, and some examples of his work can be seen here in Special Collections. Staniforth, nevertheless, came to the fore just five years later, and by the early 20th century, the News of the World was selling over one million copies every week! Its circulation almost tripled by the time of Staniforth’s death in 1921 and was considered to be the largest in the world. The Western Mail too was a leading regional newspaper, its scope however was far from provincial in its aim, as the self-styled national newspaper of Wales, to report on the key national and international events of the day. Despite its conservative leanings, its readability and tempered journalism attracted a broad readership including Liberals, Nonconformists and Trade-Unionists. Thus, the potential reach of Staniforth’s continuous crop of cartoons was infinite.

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J. M. Staniforth, Cartoons: originally published in the “Western Mail”: Vol II, (Cardiff, Western Mail, c.1910)

It is estimated that Staniforth drew over fifteen thousand cartoons over the course of his career, which coincided with one of the most tempestuous eras in modern history. 1898 – 1921 was not only a defining time in the history of the South-Wales coalfield and Labour relations, but in imperial and international affairs generally. Major domestic and international events such as the ‘Great Strike’ of 1898, the Boer War, The Great War, and the growing industrial unrest in the coal-fields, were keenly observed on the regular platform provided by Staniforth’s pen.

Viewed in this context,  the scope of his cartoons is even more substantial. Some were published as single volumes, samples of which we are fortunate to hold as part of the Salisbury Library, such as Cartoons of the Boer War (Cardiff, 1902), Cartoons of the Welsh coal strike, April 1st to Sept. 1st, 1898 (Cardiff, 1898), and Cartoons of the Welsh revolt (Cardiff, 1905).

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J. M. Staniforth, Cartoons of the Boer War: Vol. II, (Cardiff, Western Mail, 1902)

And that’s not all folks! Staniforth compiled a collection of nursery rhymes, and drew numerous picture postcards, funny and factual. These too are being digitised by Chris Williams on the sister site – Cartooning the Road to War.

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J. M. Staniforth, Staniforth’s Nursery Rhymes, (Cardiff, Western Mail, 1902)

Let’s not forget that Staniforth was a trained artist. As a loyal member of the South Wales Art Society since its foundation in 1888, he regularly exhibited work at their annual exhibition, securing his own 3 week showing at a Cardiff gallery in 1916. He designed the costumes for the National Pageant of Wales held in 1909, including the famous dragon-encrusted dress worn by the Marchioness of Bute as ‘Dame Wales’. Staniforth was also commissioned to paint eleven panels depicting various themes from Shakespeare’s plays (the largest of which is 2m high, 1.2m wide) for Howells School for Girls, in Cardiff. These are currently being restored by specialist conservation architects and painters, and will be reinstated at the school in April this year.

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Staniforth’s Romeo and Juliet at Howells School for Girls, Cardiff, courtesy of Michael Davies of Davies Sutton Architects.

 

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Restoration work being carried out on Staniforth’s Romeo and Juliet at the workshop of specialist painting conservator, Rachel Howells (courtesy of Michael Davies).

Staniforth’s last cartoon appeared in the News of the World on the 11 of December, 1921. He passed away six days later due to ill-health. Tributes to the man and his work swamped the papers during the following weeks, casting him with the likes of Hogarth, Gillray, Leech and Tenniel. The then Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, observed the tremendous loss of ‘one of the most distinguished cartoonists of his generation’. Certainly, there is some weight behind Peter Lord’s assertion that Staniforth was ‘the most important visual commentator on Welsh affairs’. His unique portrayals offer an immediate and acute observation on some of the most historic and radical political and social events of the industrial and pre-war era. While historians may value the printed text over the sketch, visual sources can provide direct access to historical moments, capturing the initial pulsations of key events in our history. As Staniforth himself explained: ‘a good cartoon should be very acceptable… small though it be, it is a power of far reaching effect’. And so the moral of this blog-post is: never underestimate the potential of cartoons. They may be mere fun on the surface, but beneath their inky contours lies something far more meaningful. That’s all folks!

To see more of Staniforth’s work, visit:

http://www.cartoonww1.org/

http://www.roadtowarcartoons.org/

http://www.postwarworldcartoons.org/