Gillray, Cruikshank & Thelwall: Visual Satire, Physiognomy and the Jacobin Body
In the years following his acquittal for High Treason in 1794, John Thelwall came to personify all that English loyalists most feared about the plebeian democrats of the London Corresponding Society. In loyalist discourse, he became at one and the same time, an intemperate but horribly effective Jacobin orator, and a covert conspirator working quietly behind the scenes to ally the Foxite opposition with the LCS and some of its insurrectionary fellow travellers. The apparent disjuncture in Thelwall's character between public bluster and private plotting presented a unique set of problems for loyalist caricature, explicitly demonstrated in the practice of the best known ministerial cartoonists of the period, Rowlandson, Cruikshank and Gillray. This essay explores some of the ways in which this dichotomy was resolved in visual culture, and assesses the impact of popular prints like these on the manufacturing of Thelwall's political reputation.