Robert Seymour, Waltonizing or – Green-land Fishermen, c.1830
This is a pristine example of a relatively rare angling caricature by the English satirist and illustrator Robert Seymour. It was published by Thomas McLean of London’s Haymarket sometime around 1830 and may have been a forerunner to the series of humorous lithographic illustrations that Seymour was commissioned to produce for Richard Penn’s Maxims and Hints For an Angler: and Miseries of Fishing in 1833.
The 1820s and 1830s witnessed the birth of angling as a recreational pastime of the British urban middle classes. It was a craze that was reflected in a growing number of caricatures by Seymour and his contemporaries such as Henry Heath, Alfred Crowquill, C.J. Grant and John Doyle; all of whom sought to profit from those keen to celebrate or denigrate the arrival of this new sport.
The title and subtitle of the print contain numerous punning references to the culture which grew up around fishing at that time. “Waltonizing” is a reference to Izaak Walton, the godfather of English line-fishing, whose 1653 treatise The Compleat Angler had been republished in a hugely successful revised edition in 1824 (a copy of which is being used as bait by one optimistic fisherman in the print). The quote which appears at the foot of the design; “Be quiet to go a-Angling” is taken from the second chapter of Walton’s book and is evidently intended as a humorous counterpoint to the chaotic scene unfolding in the image above. The subtitle; Green-land Fisherman, is presumably a reference to the ancient thoroughfare of Green Lane, which ran alongside the River Lea through the London suburb of Harringay and was a popular out-of-town fishing spot in Seymour’s day.
The image contains a comical parade of six weekend fisherman who are struggling to get to grips with their new hobby. On the far left we see an affluent angler arrayed in his fashionable country attire, engaged in an angry exchange with an army officer whose line has become entangled in his own. To his right, a fat parson slips and falls into the river, exposing a well-stocked picnic basket which hints at the real motivation behind his trip into the country. Next come two dandies who demonstrate their ignorance of the sport by trying to land a piglet that has fallen in the river. Finally, another well-dressed angler sits glumly staring into space as his rod dangles ineffectually in the water; undoubtedly a jibe at those whose interest in fishing was motivated entirely by a desire to be seen keeping up with the latest trends.
The contemporary owner has added their own text to this print in pencil. The speech-bubbles are a little faded but we can still make out the clergyman shouting “Oh Izaak, Oh Izaak” and one of the useless fops enthusiastically exclaiming “prodigious” as he tries to catch the drowning pig in his net. Modifications such as these were actually relatively common and reflect the strong tradition of the amateur in English caricature during the long eighteenth-century. The habit of amending finished caricature prints is a subject which has largely escaped serious historical study, perhaps because modified prints rarely appear among the immaculate caricatures that make up the bulk of the collections owned by public and academic institutions. Nevertheless, the frequency with which one encounters such prints in private collections, indicates that contemporary consumers had a far more tactile relationship with caricatures than we tend to assume and that some prints may even had been deliberately designed to allow for this interaction. The figures in this print for example, are arranged in a manner which conveys a sense of discourse, while the surfeit of sky in the middle ground leaves ample room for text, but no speech has actually been added to the original plate. Could it be that McLean deliberately asked Seymour to omit text from his design because he knew that his customers liked to add their own witticisms to the prints they bought?