Regular readers will know that The Print Shop Window has always had a bit of a soft spot for the work of the English caricaturist C.J. Grant. Grant started out working as an assistant to Henry Heath during the late 1820s but by 1830 had struck out on his own and become a prolific and inventive engraver of lithographic and woodblock satirical prints. His work can often by characterised by its primitive engraving style and a dark humour based around the violent, supernatural and grotesque imagery. Today Grant is probably chiefly remembered as the creator of the sprawling Political Drama series; a set of 131 woodblock-engraved political prints that offers a reflection upon the hardships and justifiable sense of political grievance felt by those who eked out their lives on the bottom rungs of society in late Georgian England.
This print is an exceptionally rare example from that series, as it comes from one of a tiny handful of editions of The Political Drama that were produced in colour by the publisher George Drake. It was formerly the property of the renowned art historian and print collector Francis Klingender and came to me via a private dealer who purchased part of Klingender’s collection at auction several years ago.
The design celebrates Irish resistance to British rule during the mid-1830s and may have been inspired by the famous ‘Justice for Ireland’ speech that Daniel O’Connell delivered before the House of Commons on 4th February 1836. O’Connell is shown as a modern-day St Patrick, driving the scourge of English influence from Ireland’s shores. A crowd of revolting demons, carrying labels such as ‘standing army’, ‘English law’, ‘Protestant church’, ‘tithe’, ‘famine’ and ‘disease’ flees before him as he says:
Out wid ye, ye pestilent monsters, into the sea, or over to de land of your nativity, – Ould England! – where, in London, ‘tis said, is de entrance to hell! By de blood of my brother of old, ye have been a mighty plague to dis gem of de sea, for six centuries, wallowing in plunder, and de blood of my countrymen, – de finest pisantry in de world; breeding plagues, famine, perpetual curses, religious animosities, murders and massacres, from Killrooney to Ballyracket! Och! and ye are a swate party for Tories and Orange-boys! Sing ‘I am de boy for bewitching ye!’
It serves to remind us of the strong links that existed between English radicals and Irish nationalists in the early nineteenth century and also of the influence of the Irish diaspora on the lower-end of the market for printed satire in England during this period.