General:Make ‘em Laugh: Images of Law in Eighteenth Century Popular Culture



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Name: Mary Hemmings


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Role: Librarian

Institution: University of Calgary

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Mary Hemmings: Biography An academic librarian since 1980, Mary Hemmings has worked at Concordia University, McGill University and is currently the Assistant Director of the University of Calgary’s Law Library. Mary’s career includes a three-year role as “librarian-in-residence” at the UofC’s English Department and co-ordinator of the Gibson Collection of Speculative Fiction. She is author of a book chapter on the role of women in pulp fiction, and is a co-author of a chapter on libraries and popular culture. She has taught courses in Fundamental Legal Skills and Advanced Legal Skills at UofC’s Faculty of Law. Mary is currently working towards and LLM specializing in legal theory and history at Queen Mary College, Univesity of London. Degrees held: (BA History, Concordia) (MLS, McGill) MA Legal History, Calgary) (LLB, Calgary) Research Interest: Interdisciplinary approaches to law and society University courses in interdisciplinary legal issues are a traditional part of the academic landscape and law is an integral part of society. Understanding its sources and traditions allows us to look critically at how laws are made and cases are decided. Saying “rule of thumb” was politically incorrect in the eighteenth century, and would be today if more people knew it referred to the size of cane allowed to be used to beat a wife. By using primary sources, inquiring students can discover a better understanding of law today. Broad approaches among a variety disciplines and media can engage and fuel life-time inquiry into a fascinating topic


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"Make ‘em Laugh: Images of Law in Eighteenth Century Popular Culture", Treatise on Legal Visual Semiotics, Wagner, Anne and Sherwin, Richard, eds., Springer, Accepted for publication, 2011 The lingua franca of cutting satire in the eighteenth century was indisputably the visual representation of society in popular culture. A still-nascent publishing industry was introducing novels and other books for an emerging consumer market. Although vestiges of illiteracy existed, what bridged the gap for political and social commentary were mass-produced illustrations. Offered for sale to a growing middle class with more disposable cash than ever before, the print shop windows attracted all walks of life. The more entertaining and the more outrageous, the better was the publicity for this new class of shopkeeper. The underlying themes of these satirical representations reflected society about to experience the profound changes of the industrial revolution. The dissonance between what was perceived as the “establishment” and reality of everyday life provided the inspiration for an emerging breed of commercial artist. Needling the professions was a favourite theme, and among the favourite subjects were the esteemed members of the legal profession. A changing society, a creaking legal system, and a self-serving legal profession provided comic-relief in a golden age of mass-produced images.

Methodology: 1. Review principles of visual semiotics - pay particular attention to Umberto Eco 2. Review principles of visual legal semiotics 3. British Museum. Dept. of Prints and Drawings. Catalogue of prints and drawings in the British Museum: Division I. Political and personal satires. [London] Printed by order of the Trustees, 1870-1954 v. 1-11. All but one volume are available on Internet Archive. eg. Provides detailed description of selected prints collected to 1954. Can search pdf key word for: justice; law; lawyer; tyburn; punishment; judge; etc. 4. British Museum catalogue: provides access to BM Index prints - PDF available of many, but not all. Can search keywords and find citations & pdfs. 5. British Museum. English cartoons and satirical prints, 1320-1832, in the British Museum. Microform. Cambridge, England: Chadwyck-Healey ; Teaneck, N.J.: Somerset House, 1978. 21 microfilm reel

  - cross check BM Index agains Microfilm images - identify interest & note quality for selected site visit prints (completed Aug 09)

6. Cross check BM Index & BM catalogue for & Microfilm to target site visit prints (completed Aug 09) 7. BM site visit (Sept 09). 8. Eighteenth century satire - narrative & visual - satire as a tool for social change " Reflecting on eighteenth century social history, Mary Dorothy George of the British Museum said: “satire was the language of the age”. Although satirical caricature was not a new invention, the industrialized marketplace and post-Reformation liberty created an environment for the free exchange visual barbs. This essay will consider the works of Hogarth, Thomas Rowlandson, the Cruikshanks and other illustrators for their views on the visual representations of the law." 9. Law in the Eighteenth Century: Representations of Law: Legal Administration, Practitioners, and Civil Disobedience Satire and Caricature Reflecting on eighteenth century social history, Mary Dorothy George of the British Museum said: “satire was the language of the age”. Although satirical caricature was not a new invention, the industrialized marketplace and post-Reformation liberty created an environment for the free exchange visual barbs. This essay will consider the works of Hogarth, Thomas Rowlandson, the Cruikshanks and other illustrators for their views on the visual representations of the law.

Representations of Law: Legal Administration, Practitioners, and Civil Disobedience Legal Administration The enduring entertainment value of punishment was a subject near and dear to the eighteenth century psyche. Depictions of prisoners carted to prison, or hanged at the Tyburn tree, or having their entrails draped over tables were completely devoid of any satirical treatment. Punishment was a solemn and instructional form of entertainment and did not require the razors of a satirist to make a point.

Arrest for debt – a barb aimed at middle class that oversteps social boundaries – just desserts. A young man receives a windfall, squanders it shamelessly, arrested for debt and ends up in bedlam (Rake’s Progress). A country miss arrives in London and is swayed into a easy harlot’s life (Harlot’s Progress) and is imprisoned. An upstanding servant achieves middle class sobriety and well-being yet the idle yet wily servant hangs at Tyburn.. In these instances, law was not satirized but was seen as an instrument of levelling.

Practitioners Justice administered in the name of legislated social interests was celebrated when citizens overstepped social boundaries. When legal practitioners overstepped these same boundaries, satirists were equally merciless. “The Midnight Magistrate” (1750’s M. Moreland Jr. after a Dutch painting). The Midnight Magistrate suggests that he as reliable and as fair as “Sr. John” (Sir John Fielding). In fact, the magistrate works with the arresting constable and the confederate whore to snag unsuspecting rakes into paying fines and damages. This print was presented in the Westminister Magazine. The characters are cats, owls and other night creatures and serves to suggest that night crawlers be aware that law and street life were inexorably intertwined. Magistrates, barristers and solicitors provided rich fodder for visual satire. As subjects of satire, most of these practitioners were depicted over-fed and all suffered the sin of pride. The suggestion of avarice simmered as a sub-text whether the subject was dozing on the bench or drawing up a marriage contract (Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode) . Pin-pricking the pomposity of representatives of the establishment, whether by the Marx brothers or by Hogarth is always a delight to those who lack power. On the other hand, the law office and the court as places of justice are treated deferentially. There is a solemnity in these places despite being populated by lawyers. The relationship between lawyer and client was seldom seen as a contract favouring the client. A clear representation of the uneven nature of the relationship is a print “The Lawyer, The Client, 1790) drawn to represent two characters in one profile. One character is a grinning alcoholic lawyer. The other character in upside down relief is a distressed client.

Civil Disobedience When the law was absent, chaos was not far behind. The late eighteenth century mob delighted in anarchy regardless of the cause. The anti-Papist Gordon riots shook London in 1780 and mob action throughout England as well as the Americas was a common form of political expression. Equally dramatic depictions of a lawlessness prompted illustrators to take a critical view of society on the brink of self-destruction. Hogarth’s Gin Lane provides an enduring commentary on the dangers of life without the law.

ORLANDO ?: Supplements research in George catalogue; microfilm (Satitrical Prints); British Museum catalogue & pdfs. 1. "lawyer" - nothing useful with regard to public/printed perceptions of social justice 2. "satirical prints" - 13 March 2008 The National Portrait Gallery in London opened an exhibition entitled Brilliant Women, featuring "paintings and rarely seen portraits, satirical prints and personal artefacts of the Bluestocking Circle."

i. Martha Fowke: These poems reflect social life and perhaps the company of lawyers in the London of about 1720.


Make ‘em Laugh: Images of Law in Eighteenth Century Popular Culture

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Keywords: "visual legal semiotics"; eighteenth century satire; legal practitioners; legal institutions; legal administration; prints as popular culture;

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