Monday, February 28, 2011

C. J. Grant: The Political Drama

Today’s fascinating post is written by knowledgeable UK collector Mathew Crowther and generously illustrated with choice prints from his private collection.

C. J. Grant: The Political Drama

By Mathew Crowther

“Rude woodcuts adorn all these publications, and seem to be almost all from the hand of the same artist -- Grant by name. They are outrageous caricatures; all squinting eyes, wooden legs, and pimpled noses, forming the chief points of fun.” -- Half-a-Crown’s Worth of Cheap Knowledge by W. M. Thackeray, Fraser’s Magazine, 17 Mar 1838.

Charles Jameson Grant was one of a number of satirists who bridged the gap between the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of English political satire in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and the onset of the more staid style of Victorian political cartoons which were typified by Punch and the works of John Doyle.

Grant's most prolific and successful period as a political satirist (circa 1832-36) coincided both with the increasing politicization of the English working classes and with the opening up of visual print culture to the masses thanks to the development and rapid proliferation of crayon lithography and wood engraving. During this period Grant moved from producing the kind of expensive, copper plate engraved and hand coloured prints which had changed little since the days of James Gillray (see the image entitled ‘The School of Reform’ for an example of one of Grant's earlier prints), to a cruder and more provocative style which was aimed squarely at a working class audience. I have also included a copy of a radical magazine called John Bull's Picture Gallery which contains one of the earliest examples of Grant's move both towards overtly radical politics and his use of wood block engraving.

The Political Drama series typifies Grant's work in this period. The world of late Hanoverian Britain portrayed in the Political Drama is almost unremittingly confrontational and at times, I feel, Grant displays the same sense of even-handed misanthropy that we would normally associate with Gillray’s works. Authority figures are relentlessly attacked: magistrates are corrupt, policemen are murderous drunkards, politicians are debased, the King is portrayed as a childlike idiot and the clergy are hypocritical gluttons. Throughout the series these various figures conspire to deny the poor even the most basic of political rights and even the rudimentary pleasures of life such as a alcohol and tobacco.

Despite the fact that the Political Drama was deemed to be subversive and that some street-traders may have been prosecuted for selling it, it must have enjoyed significant success because a full colour edition of the series was produced at an increased price of 2 pennies per sheet and a number of more expensive lithographic Political Drama’s were also produced for sale at the price of a Shilling.

The publishing history of the Political Drama series is somewhat puzzling. George Drake* seems to have produced all the 138 woodcut versions but I am aware of at least two other publishers who also produced their own editions of these prints. George Tregear produced a separate lithographic series of the Political Drama which ran concurrently with Drake's wood-engraved version but which seems to have been aimed at a slightly more up market audience, as it was hand coloured and had a higher retail price. Only one copy from this series is known to exist and this is an edition of No. 4 in the series (entitled John Bull, or an Englishman's Fireside!).

O'Hodgson also appears to have issued a separate wood-engraved edition of the Political Drama with hand-colouring. These are also incredibly rare although I have just managed to purchase a coloured edition of No. 6 in the series (entitled The Sinners before Saint Andrew).

I'm not sure whether these were ‘official’ reproductions or pirated versions for which Grant wasn't paid. The fact that Grant was taking commissions from scandal sheets to supplement his income so soon after the termination of the Political Drama series suggests to me that he either didn't make much money from it, or he frittered his earns away rapidly.

One example of Grant's non-political work, Whim Whams No. 4 is part of series of larger single page illustrations of social humour. In this example Grant portrays an imaginary British expedition to the Moon.

The British Government's decision to tighten up the enforcement of the Stamp Tax after 1836 seems to have effectively wiped out the market for cheap, single-sheet, penny satires like the Political Drama and thus propelled Grant into a career as jobbing illustrator. From 1837 onwards the vast majority of Grant's output was confined to the pages of the Penny Satirist and Cleave’s London Satirist & Gazette of Variety. Interestingly Grant and Cleave also launched a separate, short-lived, broadsheet called Cleave’s Gallery of Grant's Comicalities which doesn't seem to have run to more than a few editions in 1837 and which focused on whimsical social humour rather than politics.

Grant's decision to provide illustrations for scandal sheets like The Town and Cockney Adventures & Tales of London Life -- a cheap imitation of The Pickwick Papers, suggests that by the late 1830s and early 40s his financial position was becoming less secure and that he had less freedom to choose which projects to devote himself to. It's also known that he quarreled with former publisher Tregear around this time, and in a note written to an acquaintance, who subsequently published a short article about Grant in 1870, he describes himself by 1840 as being “an obscure object in the background” of London's print culture (Notes & Queries, 1870, pp. 209-210).

There was a notable tailing off of Grant's work in the first half the 1840s. A short-lived attempt by the publisher B.D Cousins to hire Grant to produce a second series of the Political Drama seems to have failed and very few copies of these prints seem to have survived.

*Editor’s note: George Drake was a prolific publisher of penny works at the time Grant was drawing the ‘Political Drama.’ Most of his titles at this time were edited and probably written by young comic songwriter Thomas Prest, future author of the penny blood ‘Ela the Outcast; or, the Gipsy of Rosemary Dell.’ Some of these titles may have been illustrated by C. J. Grant. The text and illustrations for this post are courtesy of Mathew Crowther. For more particulars on the life of C. J. Grant see my previous post, The English Comic Strip. (J.A.)

1835 *The Calendar of Horrors! A Weekly Register of the Terrific, Wonderful, Instructive, Legendary, Extraordinary and Fictitious* Edited by Thomas Prest. London: Printed and Published by George Drake in 91 weekly penny numbers, April 2, 1835 - December 8, 1836.

1835 *The Magazine of Curiosity and Wonder, a Weekly Miscellany of the Surprising, Remarkable and Astonishing * Edited by Thomas Prest, London : Printed and Published by George Drake in 30 nos. Nov. 5, 1835 - May 26, 1836. Octavo 1d.

1835*The Singer's Penny Magazine, and reciter's album : a superior collection of all the most new and popular songs, duets, glees, trios, catches, and recitations, comic, sentimental, Bacchanalian, sporting, amatory, English and Scotch* by Thomas Peckett Prest, London: George Drake 1835-1836

1836 *The British Pocket Vocalist* Edited by Thomas Prest, woodcuts by Lisle. London: George Drake, No. I-II 28 July 1836 - 6 October 1836.

1836*The New Historical Note-book; or, Soldiers and Seamens Recorder! Containing an interesting account of all the Military and Naval Engagements, Sieges, Rebellions, Mutinies, etc. from the Norman Conquest to the Present Period; Together with the Lives of Renowned Heroes, and celebrated Characters of all Ages, Nautical and Military Tales, Anecdotes, etc.* Edited by Thomas Prest, London : George Drake, Printers : S. Robins, then G. Purkess. Nos. 1-8, February 4, 1836 - March 24,1836.

1836 *The Horrors of War, Authentic Narratives* successor to *The New Historical Note-book* Edited by Thomas Prest, London: George Drake. Two numbers, 31 March 1836 - 7 April 1836.

1836 *The Penny Play-Book; or, Library of Dramatic Romance* Edited by Thomas Prest, London: George Drake. Nos. 1-19. 1d. April 21, 1836 - Oct. 1836.

1836*Tales of Enchantment; or, the Book of Fairies* London: George Drake, at 11 nos. Sept. 15, 1836? - Nov. 24, 1836.

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