Satire used to be a good deal nastier

Posted by Tory Historian Tuesday, August 16, 2011 ,

It is surely no secret to anyone who is interested in the politics and satire of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that both used to be a good deal nastier and politicians did not complain when they were accused of all sorts of highly unpleasant, anti-social, disgraceful and, sometimes, illegal activity in the most outspoken fashion. The same went for members of society as a whole.

One of the funniest and nastiest of cartoonists was James Gillray and the news that the Victoria and Albert Museum has acquired an album of forty "suppressed" cartoons by that master of invective and satire is very good, indeed.
An album of 40 ‘suppressed’ cartoons by leading British caricaturist James Gillray (1756-1815) has recently come to light in the Criminal Law Policy Unit of the Ministry of Justice. It features material judged socially unacceptable in the 19th century - including explicitly sexual, scatological and politically outrageous subject matter. The album was probably seized by police more than a century ago as ‘pornographic material’ and handed to Government officials. This slim volume of ‘Curiosa’ has now been transferred to the print collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, V&A.
Having seen what was acceptable in those far-off days, Tory Historian is perplexed as to what might have been "unacceptable" enough to have been suppressed and hidden. One can but hope that these "unacceptable" cartoons will be on show though not, perhaps, to politicians who will find them rather unpleasant.

And talking of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Tory Historian has also found a note about an exhibition that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago: cartoons and covers from Private Eye on its fiftieth anniversary that is due this autumn. To think that of that naughty satirical magazine that was, for many years, not stocked by W. H. Smith because of fears of libel becoming part of the establishment to the point of being honoured by one of our major museums. How are the mighty fallen. Here is an article in Vanity Fair by Christopher Hitchens.


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