Archive for the 'Humour' category

Poetry and Cheese

Posted 9 July, 2009 13:04 by Karla Baker | Permalink

On the 8 March, 1889, Bartholomew printed 510 sheets of illustrations by George Tait. I’m none too familiar with the works of George Tait but, let me put it this way, he ain’t no Quentin Blake! These illustrations were produced for an edition of the works of Scottish poet Thomas Kennedy. Now, I’m none too familiar with the works of Thomas Kennedy either but in truth, he’s no Philip Larkin. Nevertheless, Kennedy turns out to have been quite an interesting character and for this reason is a worthy subject for today’s entry.

Thomas Kennedy (1776-1832) was born in Paisley, but at the age of nineteen he emigrated to the United States. As a result, whilst by birth and youth and indeed even by language he was Scottish through and through, his star arguably burns brightest in his adopted home. He landed in Georgetown in 1796 before finally settling in Williamstown, Washington County. He was able to secure employment with the Potomac Navigation Company but swiftly began to pursue his ultimate goal of becoming a poet-politician.

His first major work was published in 1816, when Kennedy was forty years old. It was simply called Poems. The Bartholomew illustrations are for a much later reprint of the original. The illustrations include quotes from the text, arguably because of the potential for confusion amongst readers as to what they are actually trying to depict. But, what these quotes helpfully show is that, even after twenty years as a citizen of a foreign land, Kennedy continued to utilise the Scots dialect.

If your interest has been piqued then you will be delighted to know that we here at the National Library of Scotland have a microform version of the original book which is freely available for consultation at our George IV Bridge building in Edinburgh. But, before you all rush out of the door the best is yet to come….

Thomas Kennedy was not just a poet, as referred to earlier, he also had political ambitions. Indeed, he was arguably fairly successful, entering the House of Delegates in 1817 and the Senate in 1826 before finally again entering the House of Delegates in a career that was only cessated due to his untimely death. Although a Republican, he can perhaps be viewed as something of a liberal. One of his most resounding successes was fought over what was contemporarily called “the Jew versus the Christian Ticket”. At the time it was constitutionally impossible for a person to take up office without first declaring their belief in Christianity. Clearly, this excluded from office members of other faiths or indeed those with none. Kennedy brought about a Bill in 1822 and whilst initially defeated, by 1825 it was approved by the people and passed by the Legislature. This success is still regarded as his foremost political achievement.

In 1802, Kennedy was able to combine his twin loves of poetry and politics in what is probably one of the best stories that I have ever heard. This is the story of the Mammoth Cheese!

Baptist preacher John Leland (1754-1841) was the genius behind the cheese. It was conceived of as a gift to the newly elected Republican President, Thomas Jefferson. As preacher to a religious and political minority in Cheshire, Massachusetts, the separation of church and state, as advocated by Jefferson, and the coming of a more democratic Republicanism, marked a welcome liberation for the community from the relative legal tyranny of the Congregationalist-Federalist majority that had preceded it. Perhaps suitably poignant for a man that favoured yeoman farmers to city bankers, the community rallied and produced a gift best suited to their means and expertise. And what they produced was no ordinary cheese. It was reported to have been four feet in diameter, thirteen feet in circumference, seventeen inches tall and weighed 1,235 pounds. It became known as the Mammoth Cheese.

This cheese travelled to Washing D. C. by sea and land for a month before finally reaching the door of Pennsylvania Avenue. As Leland couldn’t resist noting, “it was the greatest cheese in America, for the greatest man in America”, indeed. Clearly, this cheese was of great poetic inspiration to Kennedy; and who amongst us wouldn’t be moved by so much cheese? He penned his, in my opinion legendary poem “Ode to the Mammoth Cheese presented to Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States, by the inhabitants of Cheshire, Massachusetts, January 1, 1802″ to commemorate the occasion. Reproduced here is the first stanza:

“Most excellent–far fam’d and far fetched cheese!

Superior far in smell, taste, weight and size,

To any ever form’d `neath foreign skies,

And highly honour’d–thou weft made to please,

The man belov’d by all–but stop a thrice,

Before he’s praised– I too must have a slice….”

Just brilliant, but maybe not as good as the dizzying heights of the poem’s climactic conclusion:

“All that we want for or wish for in life’s hour,

Heaven still will grant us – they are only these

Poetry – Health – Peace – Virtue – Bread and Cheese.”

And who could argue with that?

I don’t get the joke

Posted 16 March, 2009 13:04 by Karla Baker | Permalink

I have previously looked at what could loosely be described as a comic map in “Our Wurst War” map. Who could forget the hilarity of the musings of the Balloon-attic? But two items in the Printing Record, from 1880, are outright cartoons. The only thing is, I don’t really get the joke. This might be a bit of a mistake on my part as it may transpire that I am alone in finding the humour a bit obscure. However, I’m willing to take the risk.

The two cartoons were both printed on the 4 November 1880 and 200 copies were made of both. Although it is not printed on the items, by referring to the Bartholomew Archive day books I can tell that they were printed for an E. S. Livingston of South Bridge, Edinburgh.

The first is in many ways a little clearer to me than the next one I shall show you.

The Jockey Candidate

It is called “The Jockey Candidate” and seems to bear the monogram initials H and M, or M and H! But what is it trying to say? Is it a jibe at the Jockey Club? Is it a swipe at the age of jockeys at this time? Is it nothing whatsoever to do with jockeys? Having gone to some effort to learn about the history of the Jockey Club, not entirely as interesting as I might have hoped, this research seems to have drawn a blank. Nothing of much note was happening in 1880 in relation to the Club. It is true to say that at this time there was much effort being made to try to separate the links between jockeys and their training, owning and betting activities. But is this what the cartoon is alluding to?

If this one confused me the next one has bewildered me.

Anti-monarchy cartoon?

It shows what would seem to be an elderly man and woman. The woman is holding what at first glance appears to be a small child with its tongue sticking out. But if you look closer the child actually appears to be some sort of monarch, complete with robe and crown.

Enlargement of central figure

If the meaning of the image is obscure there is at least a caption which I had hoped would clarify the whole thing. It reads;

Cartoon caption


“You had better go back with your granny my little man and keep quiet, you may require a little Soothing Syrup soon!”

As it happened, this caption did not only not clarify the image it actually made trying to understand it worse. I am not sure if this cartoon is satire or advertising and I certainly don’t know what Soothing Syrup is. I am also at a loss to understand the royal reference and seeming derision thereof.

These items, so far, are unique in the Printing Record. Bartholomew do not seem to have printed anything else like it. Who was E. S. Livingston and why did he or she want a mere 200 copies of these cartoons? What were they for and what are they trying to tell us? All thoughts, comments and suggestions gratefully received.

UPDATE – Many grateful thanks to Mr Rod Barron who has contacted me with extraordinary insights into these images. Mr Barron informed me that they are in fact satirical political cartoons which attempt to lampoon the Liberal Party and particularly its main representative in Scotland, Archibald Philip, 5th Earl of Rosebery (1847-1929). The person depicted in The Jockey Candidate is Rosebery himself. It transpires that there were in fact several cartoons of this sort published by the anti-Liberal press in Scotland during the 1879-1880 period, at the time of the General Election, and particularly during Gladstone’s Midlothian Campaign, when Rosebery acted as Gladstone’s Liberal campaign manager in Scotland. The implication is that it was Rosebery who had perhaps been the jockey riding the Liberal or Gladstonian horse in Scotland and particularly in Midlothian, where Gladstone was ultimately returned as MP in the 1880 General Election, as a direct result of the local political campaign orchestrated by Rosebery.

The second cartoon depicts Gladstone, dressed as an old woman, holding the young child-like Earl of Rosebery who wears his Earl’s coronet. Much seems to have be made of Rosebery’s youthfulness in Tory political cartoons of the period, undoubtedly because he was so relatively young compared to most other leading politicians of the day. It is not clear who the other figure standing on the right might be. It could perhaps be the Marques of Hartington [1833-1908], the former Liberal leader prior to Gladstone’s re-emergence in 1879-80. Hartington certainly had well-known bearded features. This cartoon was published in the post-Election period in November 1880, when perhaps Rosebery’s idealism about the Liberal cause in Scotland and his own position within the newly elected Liberal Government continued to remain uncertain & unclear. This may perhaps account for the reference to “keeping quiet and taking a little soothing syrup”.

What is interesting about these two cartoons is that they appear to have been printed & published in Edinburgh in November 1880, several months after the 1880 General Election, perhaps at a time when it would seem the Scottish Tory cartoonists were beginning to pose questions about Rosebery’s position as the leading Liberal figure in Scotland and specifically about the nature of his relationship with “Granny Gladstone” at Westminster.

Ingredient, aftershave or none of the above?

Posted 9 February, 2009 13:04 by Karla Baker | Permalink

The Bartholomew Archive is full of advertisements. Be it photographs from the 1920’s advertising Bartholomew maps, or posters advertising a brand of pen, the Bartholomew Archive has it all.

One item that caught my eye recently was this poster for Rorrison’s Cattle Spice.

Rorrison's Cattle Spice

Bartholomew printed 5050 sheets of this advertisement on 2 December, 1879. Whilst it must have been perfectly obvious just what Rorrison’s Cattle Spice was to its intended audience it is something of a mystery to me.

What is known is that John Rorrison was based in Dumfries and his Cattle Spice came in packets, boxes and bags!

The advertisement retains its original vivid red colour, bold typeface and beautiful detailing. This includes the centrepiece image of assorted animals, clearly indicative of the wide applicability of the product.

Centrepiece drawing

There are many potential explanations as to what Cattle Spice was. Instinctively it seems most likely to have been a type of cattle feed. However, the implied inclusion of some sort of spice seems a bit odd in that context. It may have been a form of veterinary medicine and I suppose it could possibly have been an ingredient for use in cooking. Maybe the least likely explanation has come from one of my colleagues who suggested it could have been an abandoned early moniker for a member of a famous girl band known for ending their names in Spice!

Balloon-attic humour fails to travel

Posted 6 January, 2009 13:04 by Karla Baker | Permalink

Alongside the more typical maps printed and published by Bartholomew, one or two odd and eccentric maps can be found in the Printing Record.

Our Warst War Map

After several hours of considered yet fruitless research, this map remains something of a mystery.

It is called “Our Warst War Map” and is subtitled “A bird’s-eye view by our own BALLOON-ATTIC”. Bartholomew printed 2070 copies on the 29 May, 1877. This is by no means a substantial print run but it is nevertheless unexpectedly large given the unusual nature of the map. It was printed for J. Miller & Son of Edinburgh under the working title “cartoon war map” and seems to relate to the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78).

At the centre of the map is the Black Sea. However, it all starts to go horribly wrong after that. For example, the map manages to squeeze north Poland to within a frightening proximity of Asia Minor and Dunblane can be found very slightly north of the Balkans. Several liberties with place names are also taken. Asia Minor is wittily renamed “Asiarp Minor” and the Caucasus Mountains become “Cook-asus Mountains or the Kitchen Range”.

Needless to say, accuracy was not the intention behind this map. Which begs the question, what was?

UPDATE – I am indebted to Mr Rod Barron who has kindly forwarded to me a little more information regarding the wider context of this map. Mr Barron informs me that the date of this map appears to coincide almost exactly with the more widely known “Octopus” map, A Serio-Comic War Map of 1877 by Fred W. Rose, published by G. W. Bacon. The Rose map is perhaps more politically inclined in contrast to Bartholomew’s more amusing map. Nevertheless, Bartholomew’s dabbling in this sort of map was very short lived so it is certainly interesting to know that two such maps were printed so closely together – perhaps Bartholomew were ever canny of an opportunity.