Friday, 21 October 2011

Nelson by Gillray

The farthest removed of my memories carries me back to the period of the most glorious of Britannia's sea-fights—immortal Trafalgar. I remember it distinctly, partly because of the following incident : At Topsham, in Devonshire (where my father then resided) in common with all the cities, towns, and villages, of the United Kingdom, there was a general illumination. My father's house was, of course, lit up from cellar to attic ; in each pane of glass there was a candle—the holder being a potato, in which a hollow had been scooped, to supply the place of a candlestick. The universal joy was blended with mourning: Nelson was dead, and in losing him the nation had paid dearly for victory. My father had, therefore, twisted a binding of black crape round each candle—emblematic of the grief that had saddened the triumph. Few are now living who shared with me the sight of the rejoicings blended with mourning that commemorated the 21st of October, 1805.
- Retrospect of a long life: from 1815 to 1883, Samuel Carter Hall, 1883, D. Appleton and company.

This being Trafalgar Day, it's an excuse to unearth some bookmarks: the above recollection by the writer Samuel Carter Hall, and some links relating to the caricaturist James Gillray. Lord Nelson's heyday and death were within Gillray's working career. The sentimental The death of Admiral Lord Nelson - in the moment of victory! is well-known, and Gillray also drew Nelson as a national hero in Extirpation of the plagues of Egypt; - destruction of revolutionary crocodiles; - or - the British hero cleansing ye mouth of ye Nile (which showed Nelson, literally single-handed, fighting and capturing tricolour French crocodiles.

Nevertheless, these jingoistic prints weren't characteristic of Gillray's take on Nelson topics. The French crocodile appeared also in The Gallant Nellson bringing home two Uncommon fierce French Crocadiles from the Nile as a Present to the King; but the barb was pointed at the politicians Charles Fox and Richard Sheridan, shown as weeping crocodile tears as they celebrated Nelson's victory despite being pro-republican. Others took a dig at Nelson's personal life, including A Cognocenti contemplating ye Beauties of ye Antique ("An elderly Sir William Hamilton inspecting his antiquities, all of which refer to his wife, Lady Emma Hamilton and her lover, Lord Horatio Nelson") and Love-Ă -la-mode, or Two dear friends (depicting a rumoured lesbian affair between Emma, Lady Hamilton, and Queen Maria Carolina of Naples).

Possibly the sharpest of the lot was John Bull taking a Luncheon: – or – British Cooks, cramming Old Grumble-Gizzard, with Bonne-Chere, which took a dig at the British public or national ethos. It shows a gluttonous John Bull being served up victories by a long-suffering Nelson, who is depicted with the head wound incurred at the Battle of the Nile that cost him his sight in one eye. It's actually on the wrong side: his right eye was the blinded one. I'm not sure if the hook is authentic either. The characters behind Nelson are the distinguished Admirals Duncan, Howe and Warren (front row) and Gardner, Hood, 1st Viscount Bridport and Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent (back row).

- Ray

1 comment:

  1. Egad ... I remember your second cartoon from my O-level history book, back in the dark ages when i were a wee lad knee high to a grass hopper! :-)