Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Grand Master

"He has covered with his never-flagging pencil enough
charta pura (white paper) to placard the whole walls of China,
and etched as much copper as would sheathe the British Navy."

A New Map of India from the Latest Authority p9 by Thomas Rowlandson

Grand Master or Adventures of Qui Hi (frontispiece)

The Modern Idol Jaggernaut p67

Hindoo Incantantations a View in Elephanta p99

Miseries of the First of the Month p75

The Burning System Illustrated p79

Missionary Influence or How to Make Converts p95

Labour in Vain or His Reverence Confounded p117

More Incantations or a Journey to the Interior p169

Strange Figures near the Cave of Elephanta 1814 p239

Phantasmagoria a View in Elephanta p243

The Modern Phaeton or the Hughly in Danger p249

Qui Hi Shews off at the Bobbery Hunt p291

Qui Hi at Bobbery Hill p295

Qui Hi's Last March to adree Burrows's Go Down p321

During his career, Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) produced some ten thousand engravings, etchings, ink and watercolour illustrations, in the era known as the Golden Age of British illustration.

His satirical prints were generally funnier than his predecessor, William Hogarth and less overtly political than those of his friend and fellow Royal Academy attendee, James Gillray.

Rowlandson provided the illustrations for a series of books in which Dr William Coombe contributed the accompanying verse. Most famous among these was the 2-volume work, 'The English Dance of Death' (see previous entry). There was also the recurring character of Dr Syntax together with a final collaboration, seen in the illustrations above, in which it is presumed that 'Quiz' is a pseudonym for Coombe. It hardly matters - see a random snippet of the lacklustre verse below - as it was Rowlandson's comical illustrations that attracted the public and for which any of the books produced by this partnership are remembered.

'The Grand Master; or, Adventures of Qui Hi? in Hindostan. A Hudibrastic* poem in eight cantos by Quiz. Illustrated with engravings by Rowlandson' was released in 1816. I'm not overly sure I picked up the plot elements, such as they are, but Rowlandson's satirical blade cuts much more sharply upon the British colonial mindset in India than in any of the simplistic caricatures of the local inhabitants.

'The Grand Master' is online at Posner Library in a page-by-page arrangement.

All of the large versions of the images above were reduced in size somewhat (but are still very large), as Posner's huge jpeg files lose some of their quality as full enlargements.
San's ceremonie now our griffin,
Sat down and made an Indidan tiffin;
Billiards and brandy, beer and hock,
Employs his time till six o'clock;
When he endeavours to find out
Fort William, by the shortest rout.
What various figures now he meets,
Crowding by thousands in the street!
To his astonish'd sight appears
Soldiers, Civilians, and Fakeers.
It happen'd that he chanc'd to stroll,
Near the identical black hole,
Where long ago, by tyrants fated,
Some Englishmen were sorely sweated:
Upon a tablet he might read
The story of that horrid deed:
But while this tale employ'd his thought,
He saw the idol Jaggernaut
Approach, amdist a num'rous croud
Of Zealots, praising him aloud;
The idol, mounted on a car,
Bore all the savage marks of war;
No mercy e'er his bosom feels,
For victims crush'd beneath his wheels
Our hero wish'd with all his soul,
He had him in the old black hole.--


Kittybriton said...

As much as I love Rowlandson's pictures, he was merciless in his caricatures, and often vicious. As a BritCit the history of the British in India was part of my schooling. The Black Hole of Calcutta was a notorious incident of brutality, and the juggernaut, which, if memory serves, carried the thughee idol, would not stop even though it rolled over unfortunates who fell (sacrificed themselves?) in its path.

peacay said...

W: Black Hole; Juggernaut (Jaganath); thuggee.

I don't see the 'viciousness' in the caricatures myself, particularly if some level of leniency for the time period is allowed. I'm not qualified to argue other than to note that the overall impression I got was that this work was a broad brush mockery of the attempts at insinuation of British interests - often financial/political - into the subContinent.

But I admit to ignorance for the specifics so some of Rowlandson's illustrative tactics may be whooshing past my ears.

Whitney said...

Rowlandson also has some delightfully pornographic images, some dealing with race/class issues. A few are available here:

peacay said...

Whoops, sorry Alan, I think I removed all your comments when I was getting rid of the double.

You asked approximately: "can I use one of your images in my blog title".

My answer is that I don't own these images. If you want to be very correct about it, you would need to ask permission from Posner Library. But I think that it is a matter for you - the illustrations are out of copyright and I think it is very very very unlikely that anyone would object to you using the image.

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