In December 1741, an edition of the London Evening Post carried a story informing its readers about reports of an unidentified man who been seen repeatedly exposing his “bare backside” to horrified ladies as they walked in the public park at Lincoln’s Inn. The reported noted with some satisfaction that the incident was finally brought to a close by a servant who had waited for the flasher to appear and “discharged a gun, well loaded with small shot, at his bare breech and handsomely pepper’d him, upon which he walked pretty hastily off, but seemingly with some uneasiness, and it’s supposed that he scarcely sat down to dinner that day”. After describing the man’s appearance, the article concludes by asking “if anyone knows who this person is, it would be kind to publish his name, that the persons who have been so nastily annoy’d by him, as well as others, may now have the pleasure of laughing at him.”
The incident was also captured in print form by the engraver Benjamin Cole of King’s Head Court in Holborn. In The Fair Shoot at a Foul Mark or, A New Way of Wooing, Cole presents the viewer with a birds-eye-view of Lincoln’s Inn Field in which various parts of the incident are played out simultaneously. At the bottom left-hand corner of the image we can see a man bending over and exposing himself at a startled spectator. The head of the servant can also just be seen emerging from a second floor window of a nearby house to discharge a musket at the unfortunate exhibitionist. At the bottom right-hand corner of the print the flasher can be seen again, this time kneeling, whilst a companion appears to be attempting to pick buckshot out of his backside.
The image is accompanied by a lengthy verse which recasts the story as an epic romantic poem. In this version of events the flasher is a lovelorn young man who believes that women will find his backside more attractive than his face.
O Monstrous Love! Disast’rous Fate,
No Tounge of Pen did e’er relate
A parallel to my sad song,
E’er since the Date of Right and Wrong:
But cutting here Reflections Thread
To present purpose I proceed.
Young Corydon, who’d long in vain
By Dress and Address strove to gain
His Philis; by each subtle Art
Skill con’d invent to win her Heart,
Us’d various whims to mend his Face,
But Art to Nature must give plce.
Obdurate she, deaf to his prayers,
Smiles at his sighs, laughs at his Tears:
Abandon’d thus to raving Fits,
The Cause well known confounds his wits;
For stratagem he casts about,
Calls impudence to help him out;
Quoth he — If I mistake not much,
Tho’ Phiz be rough, my Parts – are such,
That where well shewn may fairly pass,
And rank with those, o’ th’ upper Class;
Then why shall I my suit give up?
I’ll not — but try to make her stoop.
Phillis, thus coy and cold, tis said
Had Charms (tho’ but a Chamber-maid)
To urge poor Corydon to prove,
The Heat of odd romantick love.
The fair One dwelt in House that fac’d
A Garden oft’ with Beauties grac’d
Hight Lincoln’s Inn — t’was there he chose
To win the Day, or Life to lose;
His last Effort (minutely weigh’d)
Approved, — determines shall be try’d.
Clad in Blue Grey, his buttons Gold,
With Hat on Cap, the morning cold,
(Shall Love by Frost be e’er control’d?)
He sally’d forth; Sunday it was
(Alack too near sad Childermass)
Cupid conducts him to the Grove,
Devote to Secrecy and Love;
Secure, unseen, in Thought posess’d
Of all can make a Lover bless’d,
Let him but catch her once appear
His Project traps her in his Snare.
Thus freed from Doubt, as light as Air,
Her Window’s now his only Care;
Three stories high, the Nymph must fall,
(As raptur’d Birds to Serpant’s Call)
So certain is poor Phillis Fate,
On first appearance at the Grate.
This he concludes — but mark the Trick,
Cupid quite baffled by Old Nick,
Deserts his Charge, resigns his Post,
Poor Corydon’s designs are cross’d.
Phillis had scarce her Garters ty’d
When from her Window she espy’d
Somewhat — but what, she cou’d not tell
For Cory’ had contriv’d so well,
That at the Instant she appear’d,
Down went his Trowsers, up he rear’d
The beastly End of senseless Shame,
Almost as fit to show as name.
Unhappy Chance! Just as he turn’d
To ask Phillis, froze or burn’d,
An Imp in ambush, plac’d by Hell
And Envy, took his aim so well,
Lodg’d such a Load in Cory’s Bum,
And in his — Lack a Day — but mum,
As ruin’d all his Hopes to come.
Strait off, like wounded Duck he waddled,
Or three legg’d Ass, uncouthly saddled,
To Barthol’mew’s to find a Friend
To digg out Shot from nether End,
So shatter’d, in such rueful Case,
Nothing so like it, as his Face.
Judge Damsels, will he e’er again,
This way make known his am’rous pain,
Or rather from his smart Rebuff,
Will he not gather such Reproof,
As may produce these signs of Grace
No more to show or —- A—se or face
So what does this print tell us? I can think of four possible interpretations of its meaning and purpose:
1. It’s a journalistic piece which was created in order to capitalise on public interest in a humorous and unusual piece of tittle-tattle that was evidently circulating around London at the time of publication.
2. Cole was most commonly associated with the production of topographical and architectural prints. In this image it is the landscape in which the incident takes place, rather than the characters themselves, that dominated the printed space. The print may therefore fulfil a secondary commercial function in advertising Cole’s skills as an engraver and his abilities in accurately rendering topography.
3. There are a number of things about this print which suggest that it also contains an element of literary satire. The structure and content of the verse closely mimics the pastoral romantic style of poetry that was popular during the first half of the eighteenth-century. Pastoralists tended to set romantic encounters against highly idealised rural backgrounds which were supposed to reflect the purity and strength of the characters emotions. The archetypal example of pastoralism, which would have been familiar to all well-educated eighteenth century viewers, was Alexander Pope’s The Pastorals (1707), a love story that revolves around two central characters named called Corydon and Phyllis. Cole’s decision to use these names and other stylistic conventions of pastoral poetry suggests that the print is intended to be a deliberate satire on the genre. Here the idealised world of the pastoral is replaced with the dingy reality of a London park in midwinter; a salubrious location which is undoubtedly intended to be a comic reflection of the equally grubby motives of Cole’s arse-waving anti-hero.
The date of the publication is also consistent with a wider reaction against pastoralism which began to set into English literary culture during the second quarter of the century. By the 1720s, Jonathan Swift, John Dryden and a number of other poets had begun to launch an outspoken attack on the frivolous fantasy world of pastoral art, claiming that it merely served to distract educated readers from more elevated forms of literature (i.e. there own). Swift even went so far as to publish several mock pastoral poems in which he described mundane every day items in the overblown romantic rhetoric of contemporary pastoralism. Cole’s print can be interpreted in a similar way and offers an interesting example of the blurring of boundaries between the worlds of high art and the low humour of the streets.
4. The print also appears to contain a number of subtle references to the fact that Lincoln’s Inn Fields had acquired a reputation as one of Georgian London’s most notorious homosexual cruising grounds by the early 1740s. Cole’s depictions of the flasher on both the left and right-hand sides of the image are both highly suggestive of homosexual activity and crucially Cole has chosen to deviate from the factual account of the incident by depicting the flasher’s victim as another man. The use of the name Corydon would also have been recognised by classically-educated Georgian viewers as a reference to Virgil’s second eclogue, which describes a love affair between two shepherd boys called Corydon and Alexis. The print can therefore also be seen as a knowing reference to a subject which was still culturally taboo and largely excluded from mainstream satirical discourse in the period.
Cole’s image may also have inspired a later satire by Henry Bunbury entitled City Fowlers – Mark! (1785), in which an over-enthusiastic hunter is about to discharge his shotgun into the exposed backside of an unsuspecting bystander who had stopped to relieve himself behind a nearby shrub.