photo (11)W. Brown, The Great Monster, Republican…, 1798

What uproar and what strife may now be stirring
This way or that way o’er these silent hills –
Invasion, and the thunder and the shout,
And all the crash of onset; fear and rage,
And undetermined conflict – even now,
Even now, perchance, and in his native isle:
Carnage and groans beneath this blessed sun!

– Fears in Solitude, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, April 1798.

During the winter of 1797-98, Great Britain was gripped by rumours of an imminent French invasion. Sensationalist newspaper editors and paranoid loyalist hacks rushed to publicize reports of the huge Armée d’Angleterre that was said to be photo (11) - Copymassing on the coast of northern France and of the ingenious methods that were being employed to transport General Bonaparte and his men safely onto English soil. On January 2nd 1798, the London Chronicle published the account of a sailor recently returned from Brest, who claimed to have witnessed the construction of an immense invasion raft. The raft was said to be “700 yards by 350” and to carry a “grand citadel” accommodating an entire French army within its walls. This terrifying monstrosity was also said to be impervious to the whims of wind owing to the fact that it was powered entirely by by machines, windmills, horsemills, &c.” Despite the efforts of more level-headed Britons to quash these rumours by pointing out the craft’s construction would consume more timber than 400 regular ships-of-the-line and that finished vessel would immediately sink owing to a likely displacement of some 400,000 tonnes, the grim spectre of the mighty French invasion raft remained firmly lodged in the minds of the British public.

London’s caricaturists were quick to exploit the invasion scare for their own ends and the invasion raft and a range of other fantastical French war machines became central to many of the caricatures that were produced on this subject during the spring of 1798. This marvelous print was published in April of that year and is unusual in being one of the few invasion satires not attempting to view the threat of French attack through the prism of partisan domestic politics. In that sense it could be said to prefigure the inclusively patriotic tone of many of the caricatures which would be published during the second, far more serious, invasion scare of 1803.

The caricature is rather clumsily titled: The Great Monster, REPUBLICAN, having traversed great part [sic] of Europe and “shed his blessings all around” animated by a desire to Enlighten all mankind, designs even to grant those blessings to a Nation of Pirates. BRITANIA [sic] has roused her LION to give this Monster a PROPER RECEPTION. The gigantic republican monster stands straddling a map of Europe. In its left hand it holds aloft a tricolour and a liberty tree which has been sharped to form a vicious-looking stake, while in its right hand it conceals a bloody dagger. The soil of the nations which have already been trampled underfoot is littered with blood-spattered liberty trees and huge mounds of French excrement. A fresh dollop has just been deposited on top of Switzerland, which is surrounded by fire and being crushed by the clawed foot of the republican beast. The monster’s other foot rests on the deck of the giant French invasion raft as it sails across the Channel. The creature’s attitude suggests that it is poised to spring across to England as it gloats:

All de Nations in Europe has accepted de Liberty La Francois – Now me be delegated to you from de Great Nation to offer you de same Liberty which if you refuse to accept, you call de vengeance of de Great Grand Nation up you. Me will come and plant and plant de Tree of Liberty in your Hearts & make your Nation free

The figure of Britannia on the opposite shore provides a perfect counterpoint to the bestial savagery of the republican monster. She is unarmed but smiles knowingly as she gestures the ferocious British lion to greet the approaching monster.

Some elements of the design appear to have been derived from other caricatures and prints that were published around this time. The personified image of Jacobinism as a continent-spanning monster, was a well-used theme and had appeared in a number of prints, such as Gillray’s The Republican Hercules defending his country (1798), Cruikshank’s A Right Honourable alias a Sans Culotte (1792) and photo (13)Newton’s A Real San Culotte!! (1791), which ultimately trace their origins back to the younger George Bickham’s The Statue of a Great Man or the English Colossus (1740). The invasion raft has also been lifted from Isaac Cruikshank’s The raft in danger, or the Republican crew disappointed  (1798). This print was published by S.W. Fores on January 28th 1798 and apparently has the distinction of being the first image of the invasion raft to appear in print. It was used used as the basis for at least two serious engraved images of the raft which were published the following week by C. Sheppard and John Evans and was also taken up and copied by Gillray in his The Storm rising;-or-The Republican Flotilla in danger (1798) [1].

The publication line reads: “published April 9, 1798 by W. Brown, 28 Gerrard St” and poses something of a mystery. Although this is the only known example of a print issued under the name of Brown from that address; 28 Gerrard Street appears in the publication line of dozens of prints that were produced by the publishing firm of John Harris between 1794 and 1800. So who was Brown, what was his connection to Harris and why was he seemingly issuing caricatures on his own account from another publisher’s premises? We can only really guess at the answers to such questions but the content and style of the print strongly suggests that it was the work of the same W. Brown whose name appears on a small number of caricatures published intermittently between 1794 and 1817. The text which appears on this plate corresponds closely with the lettering used on another Brown design – The arms emblazoned of the new enlightened trading fraternity of obstetric, pharmaceutic, veterinarian (1798) – issued just a couple of weeks earlier from an unspecified address in King Street, Covent Garden. The pugnacious tone of this print also reflects the staunch sense of loyalism this is displayed in many of Brown’s other political caricatures, such as The ex-rector of St Stevens. | and his clerk | in solemn supplication to their deity (1794) and Sans culottes fundamentally supplied in Dutch-bottoms (1795).

Brown published his prints from a variety of different addresses. The British Museum catalogue contains entries for ten prints which were published by him from 1794 and 1817 [2]. The addresses given are: King Street, Covent Garden (1794), 43 Rupert Street (1795), Corner Essex Street & Strand (1797), 34 King Street, Covent Garden (1797 – 1800), 20 King Street, Covent Garden (c.1803), 22 Warwick Street, Golden Square (1817) [3]. The surviving records of the Sun Fire Office indicate that at least three of these addresses were occupied by other businesses at the time Brown was issuing prints there: 34 King Street was home to the woollen draper Thomas Lewis during the early 1790s; 20 King Street was occupied by a family of hosiers named Hummell between 1798 and 1808; and 43 Rupert Street were the trading premises of the publishing firm of P. Molinari & Co. From this we can infer that Brown was probably an employee of Molinari and later Harris, who harboured ambitions of setting up a publishing business of his own. Some of his prints may have been produced with the consent of his employers but many more were presumably engraved in Brown’s lodgings on King Street and published whenever he had sufficient funds to facilitate the purchase of copper, colours and cover his printing costs.

The last print in the Museum’s collection to have been attributed (somewhat speculatively) to Brown, indicates that he may have abandoned publishing sometime during the early 1800s and taken up employment with the firm of Charles Cutter, a carver, gilder and picture-frame manufacturer based at 22 Warwick Street, Golden Square [4]. Cutter is known to have commissioned a small number photo (12) - Copyof decorative engravings and is possible that he would have had a use for someone with Brown’s background in the printing and publishing trade. Brown became a partner in the business, which was renamed Cutter & Brown, in 1816. However, this relationship seems to have been dissolved in short order because in May 1817 Brown published a landscape print by J.A. Atkinson from 22 Warwick Street in which he describes himself as “late[ly of] Cutter & Brown.The fact that he was still in possession of Cutter’s old premises at the time perhaps suggests that he inherited full control of the firm following his former employers retirement or death. If this was the case then he didn’t have long to enjoy his new position. The National Portrait Gallery’s directory of British picture-frame makers records that company was listed under the ownership of “Mr Brown Estate” before disappearing entirely in 1818. This implies that the firm was in administration and that Brown himself had passed away sometime in 1817 or 1818.

Notes

1. Assuming the date which appears in the publication line of Cruikshank’s caricature of the raft is genuine. Georgian printsellers operated in a cut-throat business environment in which sharp practice was commonplace. Some publishers were known to issue plates with earlier dates in order to give the impression of direct reportage, or mask plagiarism. Given the apparent intensity of the competition between Fores and Humphrey, it may well be the case that Cruikshank’s print was in fact a later copy of Gillray’s The Storm rising…

2. The prints by or attributed to W. Brown in the British Museum collection: Essex, to, wit- the delegates lamentation (1794), The ex-rector of St Stevens. | and his clerk | in solemn supplication to their deity (1795), Sans culottes fundamentally supplied in Dutch-bottom (1795), Joseph Wilcox F.R.S (1797), A draft of sweet-wirt, from the Princes head on the road to London (1797), A draft of sweet-wirt, from the Princes head on the road to London [second state] (1797), The arms emblazoned of the new enlightened trading fraternity of obstetric, pharmaceutic, veterinarian (1798), Armed at both points… (1800), Serene Highness (c.1803), A Chalk Pit (1817).

3. There are also similarities between the text which appears on Brown’s later caricatures and that which has been added to an untitled caricature of Pitt and Fox, published anonymously from 34 King Street, Covent Garden in May 1784 (BM 6618). This may indicate that Brown had been involved in the print trade for a least a decade before he began publishing substantial numbers of caricatures on his own account.

4. This is a matter of conjecture. There is no hard evidence to prove that the W. Brown who published caricatures was also responsible for producing the print which appeared under that name in 1817.

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