I don’t get the joke
Posted 16 March, 2009 13:04 by Karla Baker
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 from 1880 in the Printing Record 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.
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.
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.
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;
“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.