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Golden age of the caricature

28 November 2014

Bernard Palmer enjoys a celebration of 'Ape' and 'Spy' cartoons

Conscience' sake: Fr Tooth by "Spy"

Conscience' sake: Fr Tooth by "Spy"

Victorian Worthies: Vanity Fair's leaders of Church and State
Malcolm Johnson
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A CHRISTMAS treat awaits anyone investing in this splendid anthology of Victorian profiles assembled by Malcolm Johnson from the pages of the magazine Vanity Fair. The 50 illustrative "caricatures" are accompanied by extracts from the original scripts and by Johnson's own biographical details, to flesh out the personalities featured.

The caricatures are mainly by the cartoonists "Ape" and "Spy", and the scripts by "Jehu Junior" (Thomas Gibson Bowles). The subjects include both Queen Victoria and Edward VII ("Edward the Caresser"); politicians such as Gladstone, Disraeli, and Salisbury; Archbishops of Canterbury from Frederick Temple to Lang; and other assorted churchmen.

Among the latter are Newman, Pusey, Bishop Wilberforce, Mackonochie, Tooth, Henson, and Dean Inge. Between them they provide a fascinating portrait gallery of statesmen and ecclesiastics over a lively period of English history.

Johnson is a retired Church of England priest whose ministerial posts have included the rectory of St Botolph's, Aldgate. He is a witty writer who is well able to match the quips of "Jehu Junior". The latter admittedly has his moments. Thus he writes of Fr Tooth, who was imprisoned briefly for refusing to toe the permitted liturgical line: "Mr Tooth remains a glory to his friends and a gigantic difficulty to his foes. He is an honest man endowed less with a great power of will than with an enormous power of won't."

But Johnson can cap this with a quote about Lord Hatherley as "a mere bundle of virtues without a single redeeming vice".

Queen Victoria gets short shrift. "She is civil to persons in power under her whose goodwill contributes to her comfort, but sees no reason for wasting civility on those who can no longer be of use to her." But churchmen fare no better. A schoolboy is quoted as saying of Frederick Temple: "He is a beast, but he is a Just Beast." And Lord Salisbury, in despair at having to nominate so many new bishops, complains of their predecessors: "I declare they die to spite me!"

Disraeli is reported to have declined a visit from Queen Victoria on his deathbed, because "she will only ask me to take a message to Albert." When the future Archbishop Lang was appointed Vicar of Portsea, a parishioner wrote to a newspaper to complain that the new vicar "practises celibacy openly in the street".

Of the famous William Spooner, Johnson suggests: "No doubt he was grattered and flatified by his appearance in Vanity Fair." And Dean Inge ("My name rhymes with sting") "famously said of his canons that he felt like a mouse being watched by four cats."

One can go on quoting gems like these indefinitely. I urge readers to buy a copy of the book and enjoy them for themselves.

Dr Bernard Palmer is a former editor of the Church Times.

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