Rowlandson produced this set of preparatory sketches for an 1815 caricature entitled My Wife! The images were prepared to accompany six short stanzas of comic rhyme about an affluent older gentleman and his wayward young wife.
Panel one shows the protagonist and his young lover enjoying a moment of intimacy during their courtship. The cackling visage of the old maid, who watches from the behind the door to the left, hints at the domestic horrors that lay in wait for our narrator.
Who when a single life I led / Bewitched me with smiles & said / “You’ll neer by happy till you wed”? My Wife!
Reality dawns on our narrator three weeks after the wedding. The young woman gives him a dressing-down while her lover stands laughing behind a screen to the left and pulls up his britches.
Who in three weeks after marriage / Did use me with uncivil carriage / And prov’d herself an arrant baggage? My Wife!
Things go from bad to worse in the next image. The wife is struck by a fit of temper at a tea party and after turning over the table, she prepares to launch a milk jug at her wretched husband. Meanwhile, a group of terrified guests hastily makes for the exit in the background.
Who would scold and disagree / Then smash the crockery at me / And frighten those that came to tea? My Wife!
The wife has now acquired total dominance over the household. She bursts into her husband’s study, grabs him by the scruff of the neck and prepares to administer a beating. Once again, we can see another of the wife’s lovers peaking around the door to laugh at the old man’s misfortunes.
When when my violin I play’d / To drown the noise of such a jade / Did break the fiddle on my head? My Wife!
The wife gives birth to a child just six months after the wedding. Her hapless husband stands off to the right, literally hopping mad, wearing a large pair of cuckolds horns. The mother and child laugh contemptuously at this display and the grinning child even greets his ‘father’ with a two-fingered salute.
Who in six months made me stare / By shewing me a son and heir / And on head put horns a pair? My Wife!
Finally, when the money runs out, the wife elopes into the night with an army officer.
Who eloped one night by stealth / And scarcely left enough of pelf / To buy a rope to hang myself? My Wife!
The finished version of My Wife! was published by the Irish printseller J. Sidebotham shortly after he had relocated his business to London from Dublin in November 1815. Rowlandson made some minor amendments to the first panel during the engraving stage – replacing the maid with yet another of the wife’s lovers and including a leaping cat, which was no doubt intended to symbolize her sexually predatory nature.
A note added to the margins of the third drawing indicates that Rowlandon’s images were produced to fit text supplied by an “I. Yedis”. Yedis is often catalogued as an unknown amateur designer. This is certainly a possibility, as dozens of such people seem to have perpetually hovered at the margins of London’s caricature trade in this period. However, the fact that the name only ever appears on prints published by Sidebotham and even continued to appear on his publications after he moved back to Dublin in 1820, strongly suggests that it was actually a pseudonym the Sidebotham himself. The fact that the name becomes “I. Sidey” when written in reverse provides yet another clue to Yedis’ real identity.