Monday, September 19, 2005

Blue Devils

blue devils satire by George Cruickshank

G. Cruickshank: The Blue Devils, 1835.

George Cruickshank was a humorist of the school of Hogarth and considered by some to be the best England has produced. He began as a painter of theatre backdrops, moved onto political caricatures and finally found his niche in the 1820s as a book illustrator. Perhaps his most famous work accompanied some editions of Charles Dickens novels.

This illustration appears as part of the small The Language of the Age : Depictions of Medicine in Graphic Satire exhibition at Countway/Harvard Medical School.

Update June 2008: The Countway exhibition site appears to be totally gone now and only the text survives at the Wayback Machine. That's a shame. I had stupidly hotlinked the image but managed to find an alternative copy which I've uploaded.

Update Two: Upon enquiry, I was advised that the library website has been updated and the exhibition site: 'The Language of the Age: Depictions of Medicine in Graphic Satire' is still available!


Anonymous said...

I love Cruikshank's & Gillray's cartoons. Appaerntly, the 'blue devils' were later abbreviated to 'the blues'.

peacay said...

I wondered about that and you made me look.

Wordorigins has it that...

"The adjective blue has been associated with despondency and sadness since the 16th century. The noun the blues has been with us since 1741. The blues is a shortening of blue devils, demons popularly thought to cause depression and sadness. Blue devils have been around since 1616."

But they don't cite anything.

Etymology has..

"..meaning "depression, low spirits" goes back to 1741, from adj. blue "low-spirited," c.1385."


Anonymous said...

I checked in the SOED, and they say the same thing, that 'the blues' meaning sadness, depression (or, they also say, delirium tremens) is a mid 18thC coinage: but they don't cite anything either, alas; so perhaps it's more supposition than a solid fact, but it's one that I recall coming across in a note about this very image in an edition of Cruickshank's prints…

Unknown said...

awwww. the link doesn't work anymore. :(

peacay said...

Thanks for pointing that out ouch! I've added the Internet Archive dregs of the site and found a replacement picture, but there's not much we can do when they take the sites off line. I'm writing to Harvard to find out if it will return because I couldn't even find the illustration in the Visual Images archive.

Anonymous said...

"Blue Devils"- this is an old name of the delirium tremens.
This is an acute alcoholic psychosis which often happens in chronic alcoholics after prolonged booze.
During this psychosis people have same-type visual hallucinations. They see small "devils", "demons" with green-blue color (wine-bottle glass color).
So, the artist Cruickshank tried to show in the picture this pathologic condition.

Anonymous said...

The "esprits bleus" are spirits of the Tunisian animist ritual of possession Stambali, which comes from the Bori religion of the Haousas (or Hausa) of Sahel.
The blue colour is "tabu" in various african religions.

See "The Ban of the Bori" pages 254-255 (288-289 in pdf document) for some examples.

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