The Political House that Jack Built
Title Page, Epigraph, and Dedication
Transcriptions of the title page, the Cowper epigraph, and the mock dedication to "Dr. Slop" are presented below. The link at the beginning of each transcribed page will call up a facsimile image; the "notes" links will connect to brief commentaries which are appended to this file.
"A straw--thrown up to show which way the wind blows."
WITH THIRTEEN CUTS.
The Pen and the Sword.
PRINTED BY AND FOR WILLIAM HONE,
---"Many, whose sequester'd lot
Forbids their interference, looking on,
Anticipate perforce some dire event;
And, seeing the old castle of the state,
That promis'd once more firmness, so assail'd,
That all its tempest-beaten turrets shake,
Stand motionless expectants of its fall."
Each Motto that follows, is from Cowper's "Task."
HIS POLITICAL GODCHILD.
IN ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF
MANY PUBLIC TESTIMONIALS OF HIS FILIAL GRATITUDE;
THE NURSERY OF CHILDREN,
SIX FEET HIGH,
FOR THE DELIGHT AND INSTRUCTION OF
THEIR UNINFORMED MINDS;
THIS JUVENILE PUBLICATION
IS AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED,
THE DOCTOR'S POLITICAL GODFATHER,
NOTE.--The Publication wherein the Author of "The Political House that Jack Built" conferred upon Dr. SLOP the lasting distinction of his name, was a Jeu d'Esprit, entitled "Buonaparte-phobia, or Cursing made easy to the meanest capacity,"--it is reprinted, and may be had of the Publisher, Price One Shilling.
Cruikshank's title-page engraving reveals a good deal about the historical contexts and intentions of the pamphlet. The cut depicts a set of scales with a quill pen in the left-side dish clearly outweighing the three parchment rolls resting in the right-side dish. These rolls--labeled "Bank Restriction," "Bill of Indemnity," and "Ex Officio"--are Cruikshank's representations of a repressive legal apparatus. (In 1817 Hone himself had been tried on three ex officio informations issued by the Attorney General.) The suggestion is apparently that, at least to this point, a free press has been able to keep a repressive government in check.
Further to the right, however, stands the figure of Wellington who, in late 1818, had been brought into the cabinet. Many reformers felt that his presence was enlisted in order to help quell sporadic episodes of domestic unrest such as that at Peterloo. Wellington is in the process of adding his sword (i.e. military force) to the legal documents in the right-side dish of the scales. The sword has not yet landed, and it thus remains to be seen whether or not the pen will continue to outweigh the combined force of legal and military repression. Given this historical context, it is plausible that The Political House that Jack Built was intended to test the powers (and the limits) of the post-Peterloo free press. Such a reading would help to explain the title-page epigraph: "A straw--thrown up to show which way the wind blows."
William Cowper's The Task (1785), with its melancholy sense of an honorable social order now gone by and its peripatetic commentary on the foolishness of contemporary public life, proved to be an influential work among reform-minded writers of the early nineteenth century, particularly during the later Regency period. The epigraph passage comes from Book V, "The Winter Morning Walk," lines 522-28. In its original context, the "many" of the epigraph quotation, are "sober and good men" (l.509) who, though concerned for the future of England, can only watch as the country teeters on the brink of collapse. Their participation in the affairs of state is forbidden. For Hone the passage likely refers to the exclusionary policies of the unreformed English government in 1819--policies that, in Hone's view, kept honest and concerned citizens from taking an active role in the affairs of state. Certainly the passage points to the fragile condition of the English social order in the months following Peterloo.
In 1815, Hone wrote and published Buonaparte-phobia, a parody satirizing the vehemently anti-Napoleonic language of John Stoddart, then editor and lead-writer of The Times. This work (printed to look like a single news sheet with an engraved portrait of Napoleon in the center) was based formally on Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy; it portrayed Stoddart as "Dr. Slop," Sterne's inept obstetrician. As is evident in, for instance, Henry Crabb Robinson's Diaries and William Hazlitt's periodical writing, the "Dr. Slop" epithet continued to dog Stoddart, defining his reputation for several years to come. Hence, Hone can refer to himself here as "the Doctor's political godfather."
In 1816, Stoddart's intemperate language cost him his position at The Times, but he soon established his own newspaper, a stridently loyalist daily called The New Times. In addition, Stoddart was the principal agent behind the "Constitutional Association," a group that sought to combat radical propaganda by issuing its own government-subsidized flood of arch-Tory publications. Hone issued an octavo edition of Buonaparte-phobia in early 1820, probably as a response to this new strategy by the conservatives. In any case, Hone and Cruikshank would soon produce what is arguably their most powerful squib, A Slap and Slop and the Bridge Street Gang (1821), a parody of Stoddart's New Times.