Monday, September 17, 2012

The Plenipotentiary

Monday, September 17, 2012
Loretta reports:

Thanks to Vic Gatrell’s, City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London,* I was aware that the Prince of Wales (later the Prince Regent, then King George IV) bought satirical prints in vast quantities.  Every day he got a batch, to keep him in touch with public opinion.

It’s a miracle this collection survived.  Other historical documents did not:  “In a fit of witless vandalism in 1913, George V, his queen and his secretary one evening sat in a parlour at Windsor and systematically burned the contents of thirty-seven boxes of George IV’s love letters . . . on the grounds that George was ‘the meanest and vilest of reprobates’.”  King George V later sold 9,900 of his ancestor’s prints to the Library of Congress—to pay for his stamp collection.

Recently I made another interesting discovery:  Our Prinny’s favorite bard was Captain Charles Morris (1744-1838), to whom he paid a £200 annuity. Morris’s poems and songs were famous, reprinted repeatedly in collections such as The Festival of Anacreon,** Containing a Collection of Modern Songs, written for the Anacreontic Society, the Beef-Steak and Humbug Clubs (8th ed. c. 1810); and many, many others, including a collection the poet Robert Burns published in 1799.

A sample of Morris’s lyric powers: 

THE PLENIPOTENTIARY

The Dey of Algiers, when afraid of his ears,
A messenger sent to the Court, sir,
As he knew in our state the women had weight,
He chose one well hung for the sport, sir.
He searched the Divan till he found out a man,
Whose b******s were heavy and hairy,
And he lately came, o'er from the Barbary shore,
As the great Plenipotentiary.

. . .
When to England he came, with his p***k in a flame,
He shewed it his Hostess on landing,
Who spread its renown thro' all parts of the town,
As a pintle past all understanding.
So much there was said of its snout and its head,
That they called it the great Janissary:
Not a lady could sleep till she got a sly peep
At the great Plenipotentiary.

These are some of the more delicate verses.  You can read one version of the full poem here on page 36, or choose a version from here.  Longtime 2NHG readers may recall a similarly bawdy epic by Lord Rochester.


*My quotations are from the Gatrell book.
**Now I finally understand this caricature.
Illustration:  Gillray, Anacreonticks in full Song, 1801, courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.  You can view a color version here.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for telling us about Gatrell's book. MUST see it. I've tried to corroborate reports that Prince of Wales bought up hostile prints and bought off hostile editors, but all I found was hearsay.

Charlotte Frost

LorettaChase said...

Charlotte, this book is a definite 2NHG Library recommendation. It's loaded with information & well documented. As Susan says, there's a gem on every page.

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