The Boy Gangs of London

A Rake's Progress, Plate 4

A Rake’s Progress, Plate 4, print, William Hogarth (MET, 91.1.86). 25 June 1735. Etching and engraving; third state of three. plate: 14 1/16 x 16 1/4 in. (35.7 x 41.3 cm); sheet: 15 3/4 x 18 3/4 in. (40 x 47.7 cm). Wikimedia Commons.

Try this experiment:  Google “child” and “criminal.”  Pages and pages of horrific crimes committed by adults against children will pop up.  Now search “juvenile” and “criminal.”  This time you will either find instances of local politicians ranting against dangerous marauding boys roaming the streets to steal cars, or activists from non-profits bewailing the injustices of a legal system that incarcerates disadvantaged youth.  Both search results show young individuals’ interactions with adults, but those victimized are children and those perceived as predatory are juveniles.

This current use of “juvenile” as the preferred term to denote children who commit crimes is a legacy of nineteenth-century justice reform that created a separate set of laws for young criminals and set up the first “juvenile prison” (Griffiths).  Before that, the word “juvenile” occurred rarely in legal discourse.  In the eighteenth century, children were subject to the same laws as adults, they could be transported to penal colonies or incarcerated along with older, hardened criminals.  According to the letter of the law, children under seven could not be charged with a felony as they did not yet know “right from wrong,” and at fourteen a child had full criminal liability as an adult.  But the years eight to fourteen were a kind of gray area in which the court had to judge the youthful offender’s guilt and levy appropriate punishment.  As ages of street children were difficult to determine, for all intents and purposes they often were as vulnerable to harsh punishments as any adult (Giovanopoulos).

The plight of these young criminals–not yet the legal “juvenile” we recognize today, suspended unstably between child and adult in the court of law–sparked the imagination of contemporary novelists.  Particularly, the prevalence of boy gangs on London streets working together to steal from passersby and shop windows has been famously preserved for us in literature by Daniel Defoe’s 1722 depiction of bands of roving boys “Bred up for the Gallows” in Colonel Jack and by Charles Dickens’s 1838 creation of Fagin’s network of pickpockets in Oliver Twist[i] (Defoe).

But what of the real boy gangs from the period that caught the attention of these novelists?  Were they childlike?  Or hardened adult-like criminals?  This is the story of one such gang operating in eighteenth-century London.

In 1737, the courtroom at Old Bailey courthouse in London saw the collapse of a gang of shoplifters, consisting of about seven or eight young boys along with their “receiver,” the adult Nichols Correl, who bought their stolen goods (“Trial of Thomas Chap, Nicholas Correl”).  The story of this network of thieving boys comes from trial transcripts published in the Old Bailey Proceedings, a periodical publication meant for popular audiences–the older version of today’s true-crime podcasts perhaps (Shoemaker).  Though supposed to be a factual documentation of the cases heard in the Old Bailey Courthouse, the OBP catered to the hearty eighteenth-century appetite for real life crime narratives.  But as a collation of all the trials held at a major court in London, the sheer volume of trial information available in the OBP is also an unmatched source for researchers today studying the nuances of youth crime before the emergence of laws, prisons, and institutions geared specifically towards juvenile offenders.  Not that the image of criminal children preserved in the OBP is holistic enough to be accurate.  After all, these trial narratives, though meant for the reading pleasure of popular audiences, are also fundamentally pro-court publications, unquestioningly accepting the fundamental integrity of the legal proceedings as well as its ability to deliver justice effectively.  Think of our own Law and Order episodes “based on real cases”– as riveting as they might be, they never really question the necessity or morality of the legal system.  Still, even with these caveats about the accuracy or reliability of the OBP trial transcripts, it remains one of the most important repositories of information about criminal children in the past.

So, the 1737 OBP account of two trials involving Nicholas Correl, our real-life Fagin, and a “Gang of Boys” stealing from shops or passersby, preyed upon by adult crooks, and targeted by the law is useful for thinking about the culpability, vulnerability, as well as vitality of boy criminals both then and now (“Trial of Richard Murray”).  The boy gang of the eighteenth century was nothing like the youth gangs we have today, of course, with their strong identity affiliations and violent initiation rituals.  Instead, they were more likely to be a loose network based on shifting and contingent connections made with other youth in order to pilfer from pedestrians or storefronts.  Ironically, though, the “neighborhood watch” style surveillance meant to keep streets safe from criminal elements that has become so notorious today was very much in force even in the eighteenth century.  Indeed, one might say it was even the norm.

The story of Nicholas Correl and his gang began when Ann Wibley, who owned a shop in Petty France, Westminster, discovered two bolts of checked cotton and thirty pairs of stockings missing from her shop.  She immediately suspected “a parcel of Boys” seen loitering around her neighborhood and marched to the local constable, Robert Adams, intent on having them arrested for questioning.  Wibley was not a “Karen” even though she seems to have acted so by today’s standards.  Indeed, her behavior was the recommended approach to suspicious behavior.  Like a “neighborhood watch” on steroids, eighteenth-century Londoners were expected to always be on the lookout for potential criminals, identify suspects and even apprehend wrong-doers before contacting a constable (“Policing in London”).  And in this, Wibley’s detective instincts proved correct.

The gang of boys was rounded up by the constable and crumbled under the violence of being pulled out of their beds and the threat of dire punishment.  Not only did they quickly unite in indicting Correl, the man who typically bought their stolen ware, they also began implicating each other in an effort to save themselves.  One of the boys, James Grayham, turned King’s witness, giving details of how he and five other boys collaborated on not one but two robberies, each time selling the goods to Correl.

Grayham’s stories of how the robberies went down show us the youth gang’s complicated interactions with each other, the court, and the adults around them.  He names seven or eight boys as collaborating together to steal cloth from Wibley’s shop.  One puts his arm over the door hatch to unbolt it, goes in and they pass bits of merchandise from one boy to another.  The gang’s cooperation is important to their success as well as survival, compensating for the vulnerability of the lone child on the London streets who was often an orphan or left to fend for himself.  In Grayham’s testimony we hear of one John Southall whose contribution to a theft of footwear was, that he, “lifted up the Sash, and pull’d the Shoes within Reach with his Crutch, (for he was a lame Boy;).”  Southall later gets his share of the considerable spoils and even tries to sell a pair of stockings on his own to a soldier on the street.  The economic benefit that a physically disabled and impoverished boy like Southall derived from his criminal network indicates the attraction that such gangs offered young boys who might otherwise perish in the harsh cityscape.

But despite the collaboration in crime, the trust between them that allows them to postpone sharing the loot at a more opportune time, and the personal connections forged through hours spent with each other in play or at the local gin-joint, these boys can be no more than frenemies.  All friendships or community dissolve under the pressures of survival and fear.  At any point a boy could turn against his comrade, as in the case of Grayham turning witness against his gang.

The seemingly kafkaesque legal proceedings in which the logic of exoneration or punishment are never clear surely didn’t help.  Even for a modern reader, the basis of punishment in a case can sometimes seem incomprehensible despite the OBP’s ideological goal of upholding the justice system.  For example, though Grayham’s testimony for the prosecution describes the contribution of several boys in the robbery, only a boy named Thomas Chap is sentenced with transportation even though his role seems no more significant than any other gang members.  So, for the boys actually caught in its vice, the value of group loyalty must always compete with impossible calculations about the unpredictable illogicality of who might be punished and to what extent.

But in the OBP we also get a rare glimpse of these boys’ complex emotional lives–along with perhaps even hearing the actual voices of these generally silenced and marginalized children.  An indignant prosecutor shares an anecdote about a boy named Richard Murray from the same gang who is arrested for another robbery on the basis of his accomplice’s testimony.  When he is taken to Gatehouse prison to be held for trial along with the other boys from the gang, they greet Murray with hoots and hollers:  “What Captain – are you come too?” they say, and looking at his fetters ask, “are you booted?”  To these jocular queries, Murray replies shaking his ironed leg proudly, “Aye I am come among you my Boys, and Yes yes, I am booted” (“Trial of Richard Murray”).  To the accuser, this vignette is evidence of the boy’s incorrigible shamelessness and lack of moral sense.  For modern readers though, the exchange is more poignant than damning.  Even though he has just been betrayed by a boy from his gang, as Murray is reunited with his old network he displays a kind of desperate camaraderie with his frenemies poised between resilience and trauma, which seems to hold the young gang together, at least for the moment.

A more enduring bond between them seems to be their eagerness to implicate the adult receiver, Nicholas Correl, who buys their stolen goods for pennies to a pound.  But unlike Dickens’s Fagin who is the arch-villain and an embodiment of unrelenting evil, Correl is almost pathetically comic despite his very real exploitation of the young gang of thieves.  Two of the boys in the gang actually live with him as “two-penny lodgers,” which indicates his pivotal role in using the boys for his own profit.  But though he does seem to have some power and control over them, it is imperfect at best.  The boys don’t seem bound to take the stolen goods to him, often peddling commodities like stockings and shoes on the street or selling them to the pawnbroker.  And during the raid on their gang, they have Correl at their mercy, implicating him thoroughly.

Correl, possibly a retired soldier, first denies any involvement when the constable pays a visit to him with Wibley.  But after being roughed up by the constable, he promises to cooperate on the condition that the lawman stop hurting him.  Emerging as much a victim of the law as victimizer of the children, Correl’s story slips into black comedy when he sends his wife into the house to fetch the bolt of Check cloth stolen from Wibley’s shop.  The poor wife goofs up, bringing not only the fabric in question but also another piece linking Correl to a different robbery by the boy gang.  He is indicted a second time for this, and the constable’s explanation of the discovery reads like deadpan comedy today as he intones, “Correl’s Wife brought me this Ticken with the Check. I did not ask for this.” The adult mastermind supposed to be running the boys’ crime ring ends up looking more like a weak, incompetent fumbler at the mercy of the law and the young thieves who have sicced the constable on him rather than a manipulative exploiter of children.

The boys we see in this trial account might technically be children, probably by eighteenth-century standards, and definitely by present-day standards.  But they do not quite fit the binary we have inherited from the distinct Victorian legal system for young delinquents that skews our internet search results so that “children” are those against whom crimes are committed while “juveniles” are those who commit crimes.  The semantic sleight of hand preserves everything our culture cherishes about the “child”–innocence, vulnerability, optimism, candidness, generosity of affection.  The “juvenile” on the other hand becomes a convenient shorthand for all the aspects of children we would rather not acknowledge:  their potential for cunning, deceptiveness, anger, greed, criminality.  The symbiotic criminality that tied together Nicholas Correl and the boy gang in 1737 is difficult to articulate using modern categories.  However, reality is shaped by its representation, and this case is only one milestone in the ever-shifting landscape of legal systems.

While in the United States, the struggle to define juvenile culpability for crimes which acknowledge the tender age of the offenders continues, the United Kingdom has formally introduced a new legal category that helps frame some juvenile criminals as vulnerable children.  The Child Criminal Exploitation law argues that unlike the more familiar paradigms of child sexual exploitation, “A child may have been exploited even if it looks as if they have been a willing participant” in committing crimes with or for adults.  The CCE argues that “[m]any young people do not see themselves as victims,” so the law is needed to protect children from the kind of gang criminality in which we saw Thomas Chap, James Grayham, and Richard Murray involved.  Perhaps revisiting the old case files of criminal children will help shape these newly emerging categories, which in turn might help us to rethink young offenders of the past.


[1] For more about Defoe’s depiction of child criminality, see my “Criminal Children in the Eighteenth Century and Daniel Defoe’s Colonel Jack,” Philological Quarterly 96.1 (2017):  27-53.

Works Cited

Defoe, Daniel.  Colonel Jack.  Ed. Samuel Monk.  Oxford:  Oxford UP, 1965.

Giovanopoulos, Ann-Christina.  “The Legal Status of Children in Eighteenth-Century England.”  Fashioning Childhood in the Eighteenth Century:  Age and Identity.  Ed. Anja Müller.  Aldershot:  Ashgate, 2006.  43-52.

Griffiths, Paul.  “Juvenile Delinquency in Time.”  Becoming Delinquent:  British and European Youth, 1650-1950.  Eds. P. Cox and H. Shore.  London:  Ashgate, 2002.  23-40.

“Trial of Thomas Chap, Nicholas Correl” (t17371207-63).  Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 9.0).  December 1737.  <>.  Accessed 10 Feb. 2024.

“Trial of Richard Murray” (t17371207-66).  Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 9.0).  December 1737.  <>.  Accessed 10 Feb. 2024.

“Policing in London.” Old Bailey Proceedings Online.  <>.  Accessed 10 Feb. 2024.

Shoemaker, R.B.  “The Old Bailey Proceedings and the Representation of Crime and Criminal Justice in Eighteenth‐Century London,” Journal of British Studies 47.3 (2008):  559-580.

The Lady’s Museum Project: An Open-Access Critical and Teaching Edition of Charlotte Lennox’s the Lady’s Museum (1760–1761)

Henry Robert Morland, 1730–1797, British, Woman Reading by a Paper-Bell Shade, 1766, Oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, B1989.32.

Henry Robert Morland, 1730–1797, British, Woman Reading by a Paper-Bell Shade, 1766, Oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, B1989.32.

Published between 1760 and 1761 and believed largely to be written by Charlotte Lennox (it was marketed as “by the Author of The Female Quixote”), the Lady’s Museum sought simultaneously to educate and entertain its readership.  It did so through a variety of media, including letters to and from the editor, poetry, biography, history, natural history, natural philosophy, translation, educational treatise, geography—even perhaps the first serialized novel.  Initially launched in 2021 and continued through 2023 with the support of the Canadian Society of Eighteenth Century Studies’s (CSECS) D. W. Smith Research Fellowship and the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies’s (ASECS) Women’s Caucus Editing and Translation Fellowship, the Lady’s Museum Project is an open-access, in-progress critical edition of (and learning community around) Lennox’s visually stunning and fascinating early magazine, featuring both audiobook and interactive, textual editions (for a one-page project overview, click here.)

The Lady’s Museum Project presents Lennox’s two-volume magazine—the first updated version since its initial eighteenth-century edition printed by John Newbery—in two forms: an abridged teaching edition intended for an audience of undergraduate-student and public users, and a scholarly edition aimed at eighteenth-century specialists.  Previously, the periodical was housed behind the paywall of Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO); however, as of fall 2023, volumes 1 and 2 of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s holdings are now freely available to the public on its website and linked to from (thanks to Rebecca Maguire, MSW and the Public Services and Reproductions teams at Yale University for these high-quality scans).  Scholars and students can now compare the original edition—including its illustrations, maps, and figures—side by side with the text on, which used as its base text the Oxford Text Creation Partnership (TCP) transcriptions.

The teaching and critical editions are purposefully included side-by-side within the same .com, community-centered site (rather than as a .edu, which would have associated the site with one institution) in order to practice feminist editing principles that decenter traditional binaries of scholar/student, editor/writer.  The co-editors have designed this editorial space and apparatus for “coworkers” from various institutions, nations, and educational and professional backgrounds to likewise work side-by-side to co-create a version accessible to both audiences for this historic feminist recovery work.

The website was initially conceived when (then-graduate students) Karenza Sutton-Bennett (Ph.D., University of Ottawa) and Kelly Plante (Ph.D., Wayne State University) teamed up to design a digital home for the course reader and curriculum developed by Professor Susan Carlile (University of California, Long Beach) and (now Dr.) Sutton-Bennett and published on Aphra Behn Online:  Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts (1640–1840) (Carlile and Sutton-Bennett).  We are grateful to Professor Carlile for her encouragement, support, and positive example in her feminist recovery work.  The site has expanded beyond that initial conception; it has morphed into an in-progress learning community, a communication hub that prioritizes relationships, mentorship, and care.  This site, in other words, values DH process over “product.”

Feminist DH Theory and Method

Past, present, and future collaborators in this transnational and transdisciplinary effort to recover the work of Lennox, the trailblazing editor, and of periodical studies and the history of women in the press more generally, are affectionately referred to as “Triflers,” borrowing the term from the Lady’s Museum’s “The Trifler” section, as outlined in the Eighteenth-Century Fiction article, “A Numerous and Powerful Generation of Triflers”: The Social Edition as Counterpublic in Charlotte Lennox’s the Lady’s Museum (1760–61) and the Lady’s Museum Project (2021–).”  The co-editors adopted this idea of “trifling” as a DH method to center “care and maintenance over innovation” and to draw a distinction between this “small data” project and “Big Dick Data Projects” (Barnett; D’Ignazio and Klein).  Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein characterize “Big Dick Data Projects” as “masculinist, totalizing fantasies of world domination as enacted through data capture and analysis.  Big Dick Data projects ignore context, fetishize size, and inflate their technical and scientific capabilities” (D’Ignazio and Klein).

Committed to practicing intersectional feminism wherever and whenever possible, the co-editors have presented on three ways of practicing intersectionality in DH projects (by spotlighting group-, process-, and system-generated inequities for multiply marginalized persons), adapted from intersectional sociology and educational policy research, outlining the methods by which we continuously strive to do so (Robert and Yu; Choo and Ferree; Twenty-First Century Digital Editing & Publishing).  Group-centered intersectionality—representation of multiply marginalized persons—and process- and system-centered intersectionality—spotlighting processes and systemic oppression of multiply marginalized groups—can be discussed and practiced in classes that assign the imperialism curriculum option, including the Lady’s Geography and Princess Padmani series, which depict women of present-day Ambon Island, Sri Lanka, and India (Carlile and Sutton-Bennett).  (The project would be enriched by more critical introductions to orient generalist and nonspecialist readers on these subjects; contact the editors as outlined at the bottom of this article and here, if you and/or your students would be interested in writing and publishing on these and other subjects).

The Abridged Teaching Edition (2021–2023)

The project has, as of fall 2023, completed phases 1 and 2 of its three-phase developmental cycle.  The teaching edition is now 100% annotated by undergraduate students, for undergraduate students, with definitions that reference and link externally to Johnson’s Online Dictionary and critical introductions to contextualize readings (like “Charlotte Lennox, Eco-Feminist?” by Spring/Summer 2023 intern Bailey Meyerhoff).  It is fully ready to enhance and assist your teaching of the historic literary magazine.  Classrooms in institutions across the U.S. and Canada, including the University of Ottawa, Wayne State, Brandeis, and Texas Woman’s universities and the Community College of Rhode Island, have developed the annotations and critical introductions and beta tested the text, assignments, and activities.  All individuals are credited with gratitude on the About this Project page and attributed prominently with bylines at the beginnings of the annotated texts and critical introductions.

The Full-Text Critical Edition (2024–2026)

Entering into phase 3, the project carries forth the collaborative, collegial spirit that built the teaching apparatus into the critical edition.  The team seeks to connect with graduate and postgraduate, early- and mid-career and senior scholars who are interested in participating at various levels in building this very first critical edition of the Lady’s Museum, using feminist DH methods that destabilize the traditional editorial process in ways only possible in an online edition.  In 2024, we will be presenting our plans for the critical edition and soliciting interested collaborators from a variety of institutions and generations of scholars, at the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (BSECS) and in an ASECS-sponsored roundtable at that organization’s annual meeting with collaborators Professor Ashley Bender (Texas Woman’s University), Professor Carlile, Jennifer Factor (Ph.D. candidate, Brandeis University), Professor Karen Griscom (Community College of Rhode Island), and Bailey Meyerhoff (graduate student, Wayne State University).  Also in 2024, the book chapter “‘The present therefore seems improbable, the future most uncertain’:  Transcending Academia through Charlotte Lennox’s Lady’s Museum (1760–61),” will be published in Twenty-First Century Digital Editing & Publishing, edited by Dr. James O’Sullivan (Scottish Universities Press) in/with support of the C21 Editions initiative funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Irish Research Council (IRC) as part of the UK-Ireland Collaboration in Digital Humanities.

Read/Work with Us

If you are interested in joining this “numerous and powerful generation of triflers” from the eighteenth- and twenty-first centuries, please do not hesitate to contact us at at  Collaborative projects could include, for instance, teaching with this edition, inviting the co-editors for a talk at your institution, learning more about the Lady’s Museum and this project’s theory and praxis, annotating articles or writing introductory, contextualizing essays, or providing students with the opportunity to annotate and write introductions.  Instructors can use our lesson plan as a guide.

Social Reading Options

The website enables social reading by integrating and embedding PDFs for upload to course learning management systems and Perusall.  Users can also print the PDFs of the teaching edition and the Lady’s Museum Project bookmark.

The Lady’s LibriVox:  Open-Access Audiobook of the Lady’s Museum 

In the spirit of destabilizing teacher/student and editor/contributor binaries, the Lady’s Museum Project also declines to privilege the printed (or digitized) text over either image or spoken word.  Enter the Lady’s LibriVox subproject in which Factor spearheaded the recording process for the first open-access audiobook of the magazine, starting with her (excellent) narration of Lennox’s satirical “Trifler” essays.  Summer 2023 saw the completion of volume 1, now available to listen to in full (and assign to classes) on and  Volume 1 was project-managed by (now Dr.) Plante, and volume 2 is being managed by Dr. Sutton-Bennett.  You can volunteer to lend your voice to the feminist and periodical recovery project by signing up to read a section at the Lady’s Museum, vol. 2 LibriVox page.

Write and Publish on

The project will be enriched by more critical introductions and essays, especially intersectional-feminist readings of the Lady’s Museum and essays that interrogate imperialism in the History of Princess Padmani, Original Inhabitants of Great Britain, and Lady’s Geography article series.  It would also benefit from more general introductions aimed at student readers and a generalist audience (such as “Critical Reception of the Lady’s Museum,” “Genres in the Lady’s Museum,” “Lennox and Translation,” “Lennox and Samuel Johnson,” etc.).  For a list of critical introduction topic ideas, go to  To pitch or submit a new article, or one you or a student has written for a class, email the editors at at


We have mentored undergraduate and graduate student interns interested in publishing and editing careers from Brandeis University, Texas Woman’s University, the University of Massachusetts, the University of Ottawa, and Wayne State University.  Brandeis and Wayne State universities funded the graduate student internships.  There have also been less formal mentorship relationships, which we are always happy to develop.  Publishing and editing internship and mentorship relationships are always tailored to students’ interests.  Students are coached through the process of writing critical introductions, annotating articles, and/or audiobook narration and publishing.  We are interested in adding the Lady’s Museum Project to other university and college English departments’ lists of internship opportunities, so that more students can have the experience of writing and thinking about literature professionally.


Works Cited

Barnett, Fiona.  “The Brave Side of Digital Humanities,” differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 25.1 (2014):  64–78.

Carlile, Susan.  “‘Before I am Quite Forgot’:  Women’s Critical Literary Biography and the Future.”  Aphra Behn Online (ABO):  Interactive Journal of Women in the Arts, 1640–1840 13.1 (2023).

Carlile, Susan and Karenza Sutton-Bennett.  Aphra Behn Online (ABO):  Interactive Journal of Women in the Arts, 1640–1840 12.1 (2022).

Choo, Hae Yeon and Myra Marx Ferree.  “Practicing Intersectionality in Sociological Research:  A Critical Analysis of Inclusions, Interactions, and Institutions in the Study of Inequalities,” Sociological Theory 28.2 (2010).

D’Ignazio, Catherine and Lauren F. Klein.  Data Feminism.  Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2020.

Plante, Kelly J.  “The Lady’s Museum Project:  A Digital Critical Edition in Phase 1 of Its Development, Now Available for Teachers and Students to Learn Collaboratively through Charlotte Lennox’s Lady’s Museum (1761-62).”  Aphra Behn Online (ABO):  Interactive Journal of Women in the Arts, 1640–1840 12.1 (2022).

Plante, Kelly J. and Karenza Sutton-Bennett.  “‘A Numerous and Powerful Generation of Triflers’:  The Social Edition as Counterpublic in Charlotte Lennox’s the Lady’s Museum (1760–61) and the Lady’s Museum Project (2021–).”  Eighteenth-Century Fiction 35.2 (2023).

—. “‘The present therefore seems improbable, the future most uncertain’:  Transcending Academia through Charlotte Lennox’s Lady’s Museum (1760–61).”  Twenty-First Century Digital Editing & Publishing.  Scottish Universities Press, 2024.

Robert, Sara A. and Min Yu.  “Intersectionality in Transnational Education Policy Research.”  Review of Research in Education 42.1 (2018):  93– 121.

Sutton-Bennett, Karenza.  “Intellect versus Politeness:  Charlotte Lennox and Women’s Minds.”  Eighteenth-Century Fiction 35.3 (2023):  375–96.

The Warrior Women Project: An Open-Access Critical and Teaching Edition of Dianne Dugaw’s Historic Catalog of “Warrior Women” Ballads

Thomas Rowlandson, 1756–1827, British, The Ballad Singers, undated, Watercolor and graphite with pen and black ink on moderately thick, moderately textured, cream laid paper, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, B1977.14.367.

Thomas Rowlandson, 1756–1827, British, The Ballad Singers, undated, Watercolor and graphite with pen and black ink on moderately thick, moderately textured, cream laid paper, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, B1977.14.367.

The Warrior Women Project (WWP) is an open-access digital home for the 113 “warrior women” ballads originally cataloged by Dianne Dugaw, Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature, University of Oregon, for the index of her dissertation, The Female Warrior Heroine in Anglo-American Balladry (1982).  Professor Dugaw published her dissertation research in her landmark interdisciplinary monograph that revealed the widespread cultural fascination in the long eighteenth century with women who cross dressed as soldiers and sailors as depicted in multiple genres including popular ballads, life writing, and drama:  Warrior Women and Popular Balladry:  1650-1850 (Cambridge University Press, 1989; reprinted University of Chicago Press, 1996).

The book was pivotal.  It demonstrated the extent to which gender and sexuality were and are performances historically constructed.  The ballads examined in it, including “Mary Ambree:  The Valorous Acts performed at Gaunt, By the brave Bonny Lass Mary Ambree, who in Revenge of her Loves death, did play her part most gallantly,” are important musical, textual, and visual artifacts that still have much to regale regarding popular and material culture of the long eighteenth century.  However, the ballads themselves, transcribed via typewriter by Professor Dugaw for her dissertation, have gone unpublished—until the WWP’s launch in 2021.

After nearly 40 years, these warrior women ballads are freely available for public and scholarly exploration.  The culmination of a partnership with the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) English Broadside Ballad Archive (EBBA) and a team of students at the Wayne State University English Department led by Professor of English and UCSB graduate Simone Chess, the WWP includes a critical introduction, “‘Dangerous Examples’ Over Four Centuries of Song:  Nevertheless, They Persisted,” written by Professor Dugaw.

These ballads are an important resource for researchers and students interested in the literary, cultural, and historical study of gender, sexuality, and empire in the long eighteenth century.  They are bawdy; they contain sex reveals, marriage plots (thwarted and successful), death scenes, pregnancies, displays of the warrior woman’s military prowess, and acts of violence.  They circulated from lower to upper social ranks (and a large category of the ballads mention class, rank, or status) as they were displayed on the walls of coffee and ale houses, hawked on the streets, and featured in works such as John Gay’s controversial sequel to the Beggar’s Opera (1728), Polly (published by subscription in 1729 and patronized by Catherine “Kitty” Douglas, Duchess of Queensberry and Dover).  Even Eliza Haywood riffed on the warrior woman—in a book dedicated to Douglas—in the Female Spectator, which the WWP is the first to recognize in the mini-edition of that article published on the WWP.   The episode depicts one would-be warrior woman named “Aliena” as a “true” story and as a frequent-enough occurrence to warrant a cautionary tale for the periodical’s readership (as argued in that mini-edition’s critical introduction).

The Ballads:  Catalog, Database, and Critical and Teaching Resources

By contextualizing the ballads alongside such other eighteenth-century contexts as the Female Spectator, their depictions in the Americas and in the Ballad of Mulan, amongst others, the website publishes Professor Dugaw’s scanned index of ballads as a PDF and digitizes and embeds it as a searchable research tool, while foremost presenting it as a historic document in its own right.  The WWP is the first site to exclusively contain each ballad thematically within one searchable, sortable database complete with supplemental editorial apparatus, including critical and background scholarship, teaching resources including in-class and online activities, and background readings—even a playlist of recorded ballads performed by Professor Dugaw herself.

In ways not possible in a traditional, printed book, the WWP allows researchers and students to map, sort, and search the ballads quickly and purposefully, thus enabling fresh critical insights regarding the patterns, keywords, and themes that surface between and among the ballads, which traverse national boundaries and are set in England’s overseas and closer-to-home contingencies such as in India, the West Indies, and Ireland, spanning a truly “long” eighteenth century (you can sort to view ballads pre-1650, 1650-1700, 1700-1800, and 1800-later).

Some of the ballads appear in other online catalogs including the English Broadside Ballad Archive (EBBA), Early English Books Online (EEBO), Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO), and in the English Short Title Catalog (ESTC).  However, those on EEBO and ECCO were not freely available to those without a subscription.  The WWP team collaboratively located and then linked the 113 ballads across these and other platforms on their “digital home.”  Because every ballad links externally to each known online iteration on EBBA, the ESTC, and others (and provides Gale Document Numbers for EEBO and ECCO ballads), researchers and students can compare multiple ballad copies side by side.  Additionally, the WWP team transcribed and uploaded images of the ballads from the original typewritten document and performed quality assurance checks to assure each ballad is accurate and entirely searchable.

The Team:  Process and Product

This project would not have happened without Professor Dugaw’s catalog and scholarship, and it likewise would not have been possible without her generosity, advice, and shared experience, which inspired the work and guided the team’s editorial and design decisions.  Professor Patricia Fumerton imagined and encouraged the team to do this work.  EBBA Assistant Director Kristen McCants provided invaluable assistance and counsel.  Development work on the project began in Professor Chess’s Fall 2019 graduate course, in which Erika Carbonara, Sarah Chapman, Robert Chapman-Morales, Matthew Jewell, Bernadette Kelly, Lindsay Ragle-Miller, and Kelly Plante (project manager) applied feminist and DH theory and praxis to create and organize the database.  The team conceived of educational and critical resources to contextualize the ballads for scholarly and student audiences.  In a way prescient of the Covid-19 pandemic’s shift to remote learning that would occur just a few months later, Professor Dugaw visited the Detroit classroom via video projection from Oregon and told stories of collecting ballad copies in her father’s truck and traversing the country, singing ballads on back porches.  WSU librarians Clayton Hayes and Alexandra Sarkozy, and WSU alum Professor Andie Silva provided valuable advice, counsel, and education to the team on all things DH.  Professor Judith Moldenhauer (James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History at Wayne State) invited students to learn early-modern ballad printing processes hands-on by co-writing and co-printing the team’s very own warrior women ballad on the WSU Vandercook 325 printing press.  Matthew Holben, then student assistant to Professor Moldenhauer, crafted a custom wood engraving for the team to commemorate their work together.  Five of the original team of graduate students—Carbonara, Chapman, Kelly, Ragle-Miller, and Plante (continuing as project manager)—then built on their work in a Winter 2020 directed study with Professor Chess, creating the website and developing and implementing additional teaching and research resources to supplement the ballads.  Undergraduate and graduate students in ENG 5190—Louie Alkasmikha, Melinda Baker, Emma Brick, Elliot Chammas, Andy Cho, Kay Cirocco, Mackenzie Devine, Michael Dickson, Rachel Felder, Kaitlyn Holt, Noor Jomaa, Drita Juncaj, Diamond Price, Zachary Siteck, Talia Smock, and Katheryn VanRiper—beta tested the site links and content.  They contributed ideas and recommendations for improvement, annotated ballads, and wrote essays—all during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Team members have presented on the WWP at conferences such as the South Central Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (SCSECS 2020), the Wonder Women & Rebel Girls:  Women Warriors in the Media, ca. 1800–present Workshop (Online, Fall 2020), Shakespeare Association of America (SAA 2021), and the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS 2021), when Plante’s research essay that built on the WWP received the ASECS Graduate Research Essay prize.

Database: The Art Collection of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture

Septimius Severus and Caracalla

Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Septimius Severus and Caracalla (1769), oil on canvas, 124 cm x 160 cm, Louvre Museum (Image File from Wikimedia Commons)

The Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte Paris (DFK Paris) is pleased to present the database of the art collection of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture.  Over the century and a half of its existence (1648–1793), the Académie royale assembled a collection of more than 650 artworks (paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, casts, and medals).  Most of those were morceaux de réception – works that young artists presented to an academic jury to become members of the institution.  But the collection also included Prix-de-Rome-wining paintings and bas-reliefs, commissioned portraits of the Académie’s patrons, académie drawings of current and past professors, plaster casts of classical sculptures, miscellaneous donated works of art, and artistic marginalia (e.g., skeletons used in teaching human anatomy).

This was a one-of-a-kind corpus for multiple reasons.  As almost all the prominent artists of the old regime were members of the Académie royale, it united such iconic reception pieces as Antoine Watteau’s Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera (1717), Jean Simeon Chardin’s The Ray (1728), and Jean-Baptiste Greuze’s Septimius Severus and Caracalla (1769).  These and other examination works now offer invaluable insight into the aesthetic values of the institution.  Académies, plaster casts, and other objects used for teaching allow us to reconstruct the educational process, and commissioned portraits of the Académie’s patrons and donated works of art shed light on the personal networks behind it.  The hang of these artworks in the Louvre is an outstanding example of eighteenth-century curatorial work:  it was decided upon by academicians themselves and stands as an important “internal” counterpart to the Académie’s public display, the Salon.

After the French Revolution, this historically significant body of work was dispersed and today is shared by the Louvre, the Versailles, the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ENSBA), and many other museums in France and worldwide.  Thankfully, however, two detailed descriptions are still extant:  in 1715, when the collection was housed on the Louvre’s ground floor, it was documented by Nicolas Guérin, and in 1781, when it hung on the first floor, it was recorded by Antoine-Nicolas Dezallier d’Argenville.

Using these two inventories, the DFK Paris in collaboration with Sofya Dmitrieva, Anne Klammt (Hannah Arendt Institute for Totalitarianism Studies), Moritz Schepp (CEO, the Centre Dominique-Vivant Denon (Musée du Louvre), the ENSBA, and the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art (INHA) has created a database that establishes what artworks made up the collection in the eighteenth century and where they are preserved now.  The database provides useful links to the original texts of the inventories and to the Procès-verbaux.  It is available in English and in French and would be of great use to scholars of eighteenth-century French art.

This database is part of the DFK’s research project, led by Markus A. Castor, that explores the history and functions of the Académie’s art collection.

Pierre Bayle and the QAnon “Skeptics”

Print made by James Gillray, 1757–1815, British, Published by Hannah Humphrey, ca. 1745–1818, British, The Theatrical Bubble: Being a New Specimen of the Astonishing Powers of the Great Politico-Punchinello, in the art of Dramatic Puffing, 1805, Etching and aquatint, hand-colored on moderately thick, slightly textured, beige wove paper, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund, B1976.1.143

Print made by James Gillray, 1757–1815, British, Published by Hannah Humphrey, ca. 1745–1818, British, The Theatrical Bubble: Being a New Specimen of the Astonishing Powers of the Great Politico-Punchinello, in the art of Dramatic Puffing, 1805, Etching and aquatint, hand-colored on moderately thick, slightly textured, beige wove paper, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund, B1976.1.143

When Trump supporters attacked the United States Capitol on 6 January 2021, it exposed just how divided our country was and the present willingness to condone violence.  The subsequent calls for unity have centered on political and governmental unity.  These calls speak in ideals of tolerance from the political, Lockean vein as seen in the emphasis on preserving property from destruction and institutions from assault. B ut, as commentators have noted, QAnon, the group most associated with the insurrection, functions more as a religion [i].  To consider how we can respond to this violence, perhaps we should look to Pierre Bayle’s ideas about religious tolerance.  Writing at almost the same moment as Locke but from the continent, Bayle’s ideas about tolerance focus more on the violence surrounding Catholics and Protestants as they jockeyed for control of political institutions but also popular support and may provide a more useful analogue to present-day America.

Bayle’s work addresses issues of truth, knowledge, and conviction, and that seems particularly relevant now as many Americans continue to believe falsehoods with remarkably strong conviction.  The pervasive idea that the truth is relative or unknowable gives space for truth, half-truth, and lies to circulate as equals.  Such was the case in the European seventeenth century as well, and, of course, religious truths always depend more on conviction than provable truth.  The Catholic-Protestant fights of his era must have felt just as troubling as our political upheaval.  Although not faced with source-linked fact checking, convincing and rational discussions by theologians certainly existed and fell on equally deaf ears.  However, I’m more interested in the absolute surety in a conviction rather than if a thing could be proved true or not.  Bayle, I think, was too.

In 1668, Bayle left home to go to university.  He was to become one of the most prolific and influential philosophers of Europe, and surely he must have left home eager to learn, especially after being delayed in his studies because his family was too poor to send more than one child to university at a time.  So, at twenty-one years of age, Bayle left his Huguenot community and entered larger France, where Protestants were barely tolerated.  Although his parents sent him to a Protestant school, three months after leaving home Bayle was at a Jesuit school in Toulouse and had converted to Catholicism [ii].  Bayle completed his Master’s degree and returned home.

I imagine him arriving home with the fervor of a new convert, sure he could save his family from sin only to discover that they already knew all the Catholic arguments and they could not be persuaded.  Away from school, the arguments that seemed so clear no longer made sense.  Bayle’s return to Protestantism was just as swift.  The event stuck with Bayle for life.  It had to—the consequences were huge.  The French might have barely tolerated Protestants, but they did not at all tolerate relapsed heretics.  Bayle spent the rest of his life in hiding or exile [iii].

Although some do, I find it impossible to question Bayle’s faith when he sacrificed so much for it.  Surely, he was angry at the Catholic Church, but Bayle didn’t become a zealot or pursue any violence.  Instead, Bayle’s extremism lies in the extent of his tolerance:  he argued that even atheists should be tolerated and that many atheists lived moral lives [iv].  Such positions certainly led the Catholic Church to label him as a radical, but Bayle’s positions repeatedly speak of moderation and tolerance in religious belief.  Bayle may have gone off to college and had his head turned, but the turning was ultimately a moderating one (much like it is politically for many students today) [v].

He had experienced feeling so sure of a belief that he later believed was untrue.  The one clear truth he learned was that he could be wrong.  He writes about it in A Philosophical Commentary (1686-88), his book on tolerance:  “I have firmly believ’d a thousand things in some part of my Life, which I am far from believing at present; and what I now believe, a great many others I see of as good Sense as my self, believe not a tittle of:  my Assent is often determin’d, not by Demonstrations which appear to me cou’d not be otherwise, and which appear so to others, but by Probabilitys which appear not such to other men” [vi].  It’s a remarkable quote in a remarkable treatise.  He’s asking Christians—Catholic and Protestant—to stop killing one another or using violence to force conversions not because such violent acts are wrong but because we can’t know for sure that our intentions are right.  He starts this philosophy admitting that he, himself, could be wrong and that seeking consensus on how to act was fruitless.

Rather than give up on the truth all together, Bayle contends that “[w]hen Error is dress’d out in the Vestments and Livery of Truth, we owe it the same respect we owe to the Truth itself” [vii].  The claim acknowledges that there is a truth to be found but also how easily that truth can be manipulated into error.  Still, truth should be respected.  The problem lies with ourselves.  How do we know which is truth and which error?  Bayle doesn’t offer an answer.  Instead, he pleads with his readers to know themselves.  We are led astray, he notes, by both “Passion and Prejudice”— the first distorting the truth into what most benefits ourselves and the latter arising from our upbringing, which guides us to see things through a particular cultural lens [viii].  What we need, Bayle claims, is self-awareness and caution because of how easy it is to be misled.

Bayle admits the difficulty of governing in such a world defined by probability and subjective experience.  Rather than attempt to convince a man not to persecute someone for their faith, Bayle argues that he should pause to consider whether his conviction that persecution is necessary is correct.  Bayle writes that “a Murder committed from the Instincts of Conscience, is a less Sin than not committing Murder when Conscience dictates.  They’ll tell me that he who made a Vow to kill a Man, must sin more by performing his Vow, than by breaking it.  I answer, If the breaking his Vow proceed from a better inform’d Conscience, telling him ‘twas a less Sin to violate his Vow than to accomplish it, his Conduct in this case were right.  But if continuing in the Persuasion, that he was not oblig’d to cancel his Vow, he should yet recede from it, my Arguments revert” [ix].  When I first shared this passage with a friend in graduate school, he was disgusted—it gives permission to commit murder!  And murder is clearly against Christian vows of any sort!  And think of the hypocrisy it opens up to claim a murder is just!  My friend isn’t wrong; Bayle is doing all of that.  Put in modern contexts, it leads to some really terrible statements.  For example, “if your conscious dictates that you should ram your car into protesters, then you should ram your car into protestors.”  Or, “if your conscience dictates that you should join an armed insurrection and try to take over the United States Capitol and kill elected government officials, then you should do so.”  It’s an odd thing to say when I cannot understand anyone’s conscience telling them such actions are anything other than reprehensible.

Back then, I defended Bayle by noting that he argues that the state is obligated to punish the murderer for the murder even if the offender felt it a justified murder.  But it’s more than that.  I had trouble articulating it then and still do now, but I think that Bayle is right [x].  If your conscience and sense of rightness tells you that you should do something, then you should.  What Bayle wants is for you to not be so sure of yourself.  Are you absolutely sure that protesters need to die or be injured?  The answer might stay yes—Dylann Roof still seems sure he did the right thing [xi].  Though some have expressed remorse over their part in storming the Capitol, many others remain convinced that their actions were a justified and moral response to a “rigged election” [xii].  Maybe Bayle’s plea wouldn’t stop such large atrocities, but maybe it would stop the ones that led up to it.  Dylann Roof didn’t shoot up a church because the idea came to him in a dream the night before.  He had failed to ask himself if he was sure about a whole slew of ideas before that.

Likewise, the QAnon followers had to build convictions about a range of lies built only on belief:  that the election results were false, that the Deep State exists, that there is a government-run pedophile ring, that Democrats drink the blood of children, and other nonsense [xiii].  QAnon asks its followers to “question the narrative” (as “Q” T-shirts and bumper stickers declare), but it really supplies a narrative that won’t allow any questioning.  In doing so, QAnon is pushing a distorted form of skepticism.  This understanding of skepticism sells “going against the grain,” distrusting authority, and trusting yourself before others.  But skepticism asks us to distrust ourselves and our own perceptions and to question our own beliefs.  Maybe we all need to be picked up and crashed down into a new ideology like Bayle was at twenty-one years of age.  Maybe we all need not just to have our minds changed (after all converts are often the most zealous), but our minds changed over and over again [xiv].  Maybe we need to realize that there is no sureness “to wake up” to, and question and doubt will remain even if we “open our eyes.”

It reminds me of another story of white supremacy I read about—the story of a mom whose young son gets sucked into white supremacist internet channels [xv].  She lets her son go—even lets her son meet white supremacists in person—and in the end he comes back to a less hateful way of thinking.  It was such a risk; she could have lost her son forever, but he had a place to come back to.  In the end, it wasn’t discovering that the beliefs of his new white supremacist friends were wrong that turned the son back, but his skepticism of a bunch of adults agreeing with a thirteen-year-old boy.  In the end, he was suspicious of himself because he was a boy, and he knew he didn’t know enough of the world to cast such judgment.

We could all use a bit more skepticism about our own judgments, myself included, and so I think often of Pierre Bayle.  He called for a tolerance based on questioning our perceptions and convictions.  He didn’t give up on truth or knowledge but instead devoted his life to producing the encyclopedic Dictionnaire Historique et Critique (1697) and building a large correspondence with other seventeenth-century thinkers to test that knowledge.  He argued—and argued strongly for—his perception of the world.  He had convictions but constantly challenged them.  Convictions carry weight, they have consequences, they are often lonely and subject to doubt.  So much of what we call conviction today seems to be about fitting into a group or taking a side and seeking others who share our convictions.  For Bayle, convictions don’t work that way.  His life was a tragedy; he was exiled in a foreign land and suffered the weight of being the cause of his own brother’s death because of his convictions.  The conviction he argued most fervently for is that we should not be so convinced of our beliefs that it leads us to do harm to others.  That is a conviction I can share.

[i]  Caroline Mimbs Nyce, “QAnon Is A New American Religion.”  The Atlantic, May 14, 2020.  See also Marc-André Argentino, “The Church of QAnon:  Will Conspiracy Theories Form the Basis of a New Religious Movement?”  The Conversation.  May 18, 2020.

[ii] Thomas M. Lennon and Michael Hickson, “Pierre Bayle.”  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).  For a more complete biography of see Elisabeth Labrousse’s Bayle (trans. Denys Potts, Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1983).

[iii] Lennon and Hickson,

[iv] Today and during his life, Bayle’s faith was questioned because of his favorable writing about atheism in his Dictionnaire Historique et Critique.  Eighteenth-century scholars have been particularly interested in Bayle’s influence on David Hume’s thoughts on atheism.  See, for example, Pittion, J.-P. (Jean-Paul).  “Hume’s Reading of Bayle:  An Inquiry into the Source and Role of the Memoranda.”  Journal of the History of Philosophy 15.4 (1977):  373-386.  Project MUSE.

[v] Matthew J. Mayhew, Alyssa N. Rockenbach, Benjamin S. Selznick, and Jay L. Zagorsky.  “Does College Turn People into Liberals?”  The Conversation.  February 2, 2018.

[vi] Bayle, Pierre, A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14:23, “Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full.”  Intro by John Kilcullen and Chandran Kukathas.  Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000, 94.  I am quoting from the 1708 English translation, made available by the Liberty Fund, which is the only available full translation in English.

[vii] Bayle, 250.

[viii] “But as Passion and Prejudice do but too often obscure the Ideas of natural Equity, I shou’d advise all who have a mind effectually to retrieve ‘em, to consider these Ideas in the general, and as abstracted from all private Interest, and from the Customs fo their country.  For a fond and deeply-rooted Passion may possibly happen to persuade a Man, that an Action, which he dotes on as profitable and pleasant, is very agreeable to the Dictates of right Reason:  the Power of Custom, and a turn given to the Understanding in the earliest Infancy, may happen to represent an Action as honest and seemly, which in it self is quite otherwise” (69).

[ix] Bayle, 249.

[x] Luckily, Jean-Luc Solére has done so wonderfully.  See “The Coherence of Bayle’s Theory of Toleration.”  Journal of the History of Philosophy 54.1 (2016):  21-46.  In this article Solére takes on the criticism that Bayle’s tolerance argument is inconsistent because it asks for intolerant behavior to be tolerated.  Solére outlines how Bayle’s logic does not support intolerance because Bayle considers violence an evil action even if the intention that caused it is good and because Bayle argues that one is responsible for his or her ignorance in believing that violence is justified.

[xi] Jamie Morrison, Gabe Gutierrez, Mariana Atencio, and Jon Schuppe.  “Charleston Massacre Trial Concludes with Dylann Roof Saying ‘I Had to Do It’.”  NBC News.  January 10, 2017.

[xii] Trevor Hughes, “’It Needed to Happen’:  Trump Supporters Defiant after Capitol Attack, Plan to do it Again for Biden’s Inauguration,” USA Today.  January 7, 2021.

[xiii] Perhaps the best place to find up-to-date information on the QAnon conspiracies is the frequently updated Wikipedia page:,_claims_and_beliefs

[xiv] Allison Pond and Greg Smith.  “The ‘Zeal of the Convert’:  Is It the Real Deal?”  October 28, 2009.

[xv] Anonymous.  “What Happened After My 13-Year-Old Son Joined the Alt-Right.”  Washingtonian.  May 5, 2019.

The Jane Austen-Bernie Sanders Memes: Too Funny or Too Political?

On Inauguration Day 2021, Americans welcomed the peaceful transition of power from the Trump era to the Biden years. After the Capitol insurgence on January 6, 2021, many Americans feared what might happen on this momentous occasion, and when we watched the inauguration we breathed a collective sigh of relief as Kamala Harris became the first woman (and importantly a woman of color) to become vice president and Joe Biden assumed his new role as president. We cried happy tears as we listened to Harris and Biden take their oaths, Amy Klobuchar speak excitedly about the day, a handful of singers give us fantastic renditions of patriotic classics, the first youth poet laureate Amanda Gordon read her riveting poem, clergymen lead national prayers, and, of course, our new president inspire us to hope for a unified American future despite the challenges this country faces in the days to come.

After the inauguration–perhaps even as early as it was taking place–we laughed together as we were given another gift: the Bernie Sanders sitting solo meme. As we watched politicians sit six feet apart and wear masks, gloves or mittens, fabulous coats, and hats, one stood out among the crowd: Sanders sitting in a relaxed pose with his arms and legs crossed, his taupe coat, and his brown, white, and black patterned mittens on. Something about that pose, something about the Bernie stare, just came alive on the internet. On January 20, 2021, the “bundled up” and “cozy and casual” Bernie Sanders inauguration meme went viral on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and many other online outlets. #BernieSanders was trending on Twitter, but it wasn’t for his politics. It was for the “first great meme of 2021,” though it is certainly not the first Sanders meme to show him wearing the coat. His “I am asking once again” campaign ad also became a meme.

Sanders sitting in his folding chair began to show up everywhere. As a Time magazine article confirms, the “Bernie Sanders in a Chair” meme hit Know Your Meme minutes after Biden was sworn into office, and transparent PNG files appeared on Twitter and elsewhere as quickly. A “Bernie Sanders in a Chair” SnapChat filter was even available. As a result, people took the “Bernie Sanders in a Chair” image and ran with it. Bernie showed up in famous art scenes, including Leonardo DaVinci’s Last Supper and Vincent Van Gogh’s Night Cafe. He showed up at a slew of sporting events, such as professional basketball games and kids’ soccer matches. He showed up in television shows, including The Golden Girls and F.R.I.E.N.D.S. He showed up holding Baby Yoda. He showed up in movies such as The Big Lebowski and Forrest Gump. Nick Sawhny created a website that uses Google Earth images and adds the Bernie Sanders meme to any location on the planet that has an address. Outsnapped created a website that let amateur meme makers create their own “Sit with Bernie Sanders” memes. If I continued to list all the places Sanders has appeared on the web, this essay would break the internet. However, there is one more place I have to mention.

Guess where else Bernie Sanders showed up: in Regency England. To be specific, he showed up in cinematic adaptations of Jane Austen’s Emma and Pride and Prejudice. What does it mean for Sanders to show up in Austen’s world in so many posts? It shows that Austen’s pop culture cache is as large as ever and that Austen is always relevant to current events. Connecting Austen to the United States’ inauguration is probably the last thing I would have thought to do–even as an obsessed Janeite–but when I saw the first Austen-Sanders meme, I was overjoyed. I began sharing images of Bernie not only sitting at the inauguration with Austen-themed captions, but also sitting in Jane’s drawing rooms, standing on a balcony, attending a picnic, and more. Although there are many Austen-Sanders mashups now in circulation, a few deserve recognition for what they can teach us about the conjunction of Austen’s world and today’s politics. 

Woodhouse feels a decided draft.

Fig. 1

Because January 20 was a cold day in Washington, D.C., and Sanders is an elderly gentleman, it just seemed natural for him to be associated with the aged Mr. Woodhouse. For instance, one of the first Austen-Sanders memes to go viral is this one (fig. 1), which reminds us of how much Mr. Woodhouse prefers staying inside during cold weather.


Bernie next to screens from new Emma

Fig. 2

Indeed, we can imagine Sanders as a Mr. Woodhouse who would prefer not be sitting in the cold but by a warm fire, so the internet decided to give us that, too (fig. 2).  Here Sanders is Woodhouse adjacent–he does not sit within the screens, as Bill Nighy playing Emma’s father does, which makes him appear even grumpier. At least he gets to warm himself by the fire, though. These two images remind us that Bernie is practical, if nothing else. As he said on inauguration day with a chuckle to CBS News’s Gayle King: “You know, in Vermont. . .we know something about the cold, and we’re not so concerned about good fashion. We want to keep warm. And that’s what I did today.”

Mr. Woodhouse, Bernie, and Miss Bates at Picnic

Fig. 3

A number of Woodhouse adjacent memes popped up, but in a warmer season: Sanders is wedged between Woodhouse and Miss Bates outside on a warm sunny day (fig. 3), and he sits inside next to Woodhouse waiting for Emma to unveil her masterful portrait of Harriet (fig. 4). 


Fig. 4

Screenshot of Krueger Facebook post of Bernie as Mr. Bennet

Fig. 5







While we might have expected to see a Sanders-Woodhouse mashup, finding Sanders in Pride and Prejudice surprised me at first, until I began thinking about Bernie Sanders as a Mr. Bennet. When I saw the first Pride and Prejudice and Bernie mittens meme, I immediately shared it on my social media (fig. 5).  Of course Bernie Sanders is a Mr. Bennet patiently sitting, waiting. What would please Mr. Bennet most: to have all of his daughters married off and out of the house so that he can get some peace–mostly from Mrs. Bennet, who desires her daughters to be married to the point of madness!

Ripped Bodice post of Bernie in Pride and Prejudice Scene

Fig. 6

Like the Emma memes that began with the image of Bernie sitting at the Capitol, the memes quickly transitioned to placing Sanders in Austen films. For instance, on January 21, Twitter famed account @TheRippedBodice unapologetically posted this one (fig. 6).  Once again, we can imagine Bernie as a disgruntled Mr. Bennet waiting for his daughters to vacate the house so that he can have his rooms to himself. But Bernie Sanders showed up in other Pride and Prejudice places and in place of other figures.

Bookhoarding Bernie on Balcony

Fig. 7

Bianca Hernandez-Knight, known as @bookhoarding on Twitter, created another Mr. Bennetesque Bernie meme–again focusing on the waiting (fig. 7). The women in Austen’s world are eager as Mr. Bennet to find a match, so why not place Mr. Bennet alongside them after a ball as they gaze longingly for something, anything to happen? Here Bernie may stand in for the absent Mr. Bennet once again.

Pride and Prejudice Balcony with Lydia

Fig. 8

However, upon closer inspection, we find he takes the place of an important character–Lydia Bennet (fig. 8). What might it mean for Bernie to replace the outlandish Lydia, Mr. Bennet’s first daughter to wed, albeit under shady circumstances? While I don’t think Hernandez-Knight intended such a comparison, the image makes me think about Lydia’s absence as much as Bernie’s presence.

One thing these memes show us about Austen’s world is its attention to space. Even though Bernie (unwillingly) bumps Lydia off the balcony in the previous image (but keeps her feathers), the Austen-Sanders mashup mostly points to empty spaces in scenes, spaces that oftentimes denote an awkwardness of emotion. 

Mr. Collins Proposes

Fig. 9

Take the scene wherein Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth Bennet as an example of not only tension, but also a kind of spectral Mr. Bennet presence. The Bernie meme has been called “a mood,” and it certainly is here (fig. 9).  Even though Mr. Bennet is not in the room with his daughter during this scene in Austen’s book or in the adaptions, he is a part of Lizzie’s mind, and we find later that she cannot wait to talk to her father about how she cannot bear such a union. We know that Mr. Bennet agrees, and to put Bernie Sanders in this position is not simply funny but also reminiscent perhaps of his radical ideas concerning marrying for love. How progressive! 

Emma scene with Bernie at left

Fig. 10

But this is not the only meme in which Bernie replaces something. Naturally, the Instagram account @janeaustenmeme shared a bunch of Austen-Sanders mashups, but the one in which their Bernie sits next to Mr. Woodhouse in the 2020 Emma film when compared to the image I previously discussed demonstrates that Sanders took the place of a table (fig. 10). No longer sandwiched between Mr. Woodhouse and Miss Bates, our masked Bernie gets some breathing room, which could be dangerous in COVID times, and ends up balancing out the image, albeit marginally.

Another thing these images reveal is the desire for Austen fans to be a part of something culturally important and immediate–in this case not only the Austen meme world, but the celebration of Austen’s place in a viral online environment as well as the celebration of Sanders fandom and the inauguration itself. As Hernandez-Knight’s post indicates, there were Austen-Sanders memes before the ones she created (and she made a few); she had not seen one yet that places Sanders on the balcony, so why not make that one and share it? This is what Henry Jenkins would call participatory culture at its finest. The fans create the culture. 

In the spirit of a good laugh, social media groups and individuals on their own accounts shared these memes with the acknowledgment that this Austen-Sanders combination is too funny. On Facebook Laughing with Lizzie writes, “These have been making me laugh all day Mr Woodhouse has a new companion!” Juliette Jones posted to the Jane Austen Universe Facebook the same cluster of images and prefaces them with a similar sentiment: “These have absolutely made my day .” Clearly these posts indicate that the Austen-Sanders mashups bring joy to fans and expand upon the joy that so many Americans, and people around the world, felt on January 20, 2021. 

But why were similar posts with Austen-Sanders memes pulled from Jane Austen Fan Club’s Facebook page? A few posts appeared between January 20 and 21 showcasing the memes, but then members found on January 21 that the moderators deleted the posts. Fan club members were left to speculate as to why the posts were pulled: too funny? Absolutely not. Too political? Probably. 

A lot of Facebook fan group pages have policies in which they prohibit anything remotely “political”–which could mean anything related to party politics, such as associative images with the Democratic Party or the inauguration of a president, or personal politics, including posts deemed objectionable to cis-het-white norms. It seems, then, that the Austen-Sanders meme posts were too political, even if they were funny and fans enjoyed them, and thus removed by the page’s moderators because either someone complained about them, or the moderators feared that someone would be offended by them. Even follow-up posts asking why the meme posts were pulled were removed the same day, but before they were, I can vouch through my own screenshots that many fans enjoyed the memes.

For instance, one fan said that they reminded her of her dad attending sporting events (bundled up and masked). Another fan said, “I loved them and wanted to share!” but sadly found them removed. Yet another fan proclaimed, “Sorry I missed them! Those Bernie memes are so funny.” I added my two cents: “Deleted? That’s a shame, as they show how relevant Austen is at this very moment.” Indeed, I understand why the moderators removed the posts, but I also thought about how many Austen fans seem to hold her up as an apolitical saint. Of course, those of us who have read Austen critically and in context know that plenty of scholars have shown how “political” Austen really was and how she tempered and veiled some of this politics in her writing but certainly did not eschew it.

That surely is another takeaway point from the Austen-Sanders meme going viral. While we might say they are too political for an Austen fan club page and that Austen has no place in twenty-first century American politics–and perhaps Sanders no place in Austen’s world–these two worlds complement each other and point to the fact that something as foreign to Austen’s time as a presidential inauguration and a politician’s image going viral can be productively mashed up to bring fans together. The joining of these two universes brought some added joy to an already momentous occasion that will surely go down in history as one of America’s most interesting inaugurations.

While the Austen-Sanders memes may not make it into the history books (but who knows?) and no one will likely associate Austen with the inauguration of Biden and Harris in years to come, those of us who watched the inauguration and scrolled through social media for the days to follow just might recall some funny “Bernie Sitting in a Chair” memes that reminded us of some beloved Austen characters and adaptations. 

The Asmodeus Flight: Voyeurism, Forbidden Knowledge, and Satire

Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg, 1740–1812, French, active in Britain (from 1771), The Angel Binding Satan, ca. 1797, Oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, B1981.25.224

In 1708, the first English version of The Devil upon Two Sticks was published.  It was a loose translation of Alain-René Lesage’s Le diable boiteux, itself a loose adaptation of Luis Veléz de Guevara’s El diablo cojuelo (1641).  Though little-read today, The Devil upon Two Sticks was remarkably popular among eighteenth-century English audiences, launching a kind of microgenre—the Asmodeus flight.  The premise is simple:  a young scholar, Don Cleofas, frees the devil Asmodeo (also known as Asmodeus) from a bottle, in which a highly skilled sorcerer has trapped him.  In gratitude, the devil on two sticks—so called because of a fight with another devil that led to his falling out of the sky and breaking his legs—leads Cleofas on a tour of Madrid over the course of a single night, lifting the roofs from the houses they pass and allowing his human companion to peek at the disreputable behavior going on within them.  This frame narrative enables the unfolding of a compilation of stories and offers readers the perverse indulgence of urban voyeurism.  Over the course of the eighteenth century, sequels, adaptations, further translations, and other related texts capitalized on the concept’s appeal to English readers.  These texts include a number of theatrical adaptations, along with a new translation by Tobias Smollett in 1750, The Devil upon Crutches, and even a sequel, William Combe’s The Devil upon Two Sticks in England (1791).[1]  Asmodeus was sufficiently familiar that Charles Dickens, in American Notes (1842), described New York newspapers as “good strong stuff; dealing in round abuse and blackguard names; pulling off the roofs of private houses, as the Halting Devil did in Spain.”[2]  The “Halting Devil” continued to function as a byword for the uncovering of secrets in the unknowable spaces of the city.

The long life and afterlife of The Devil upon Two Sticks indicates eighteenth-century English literary culture’s ongoing preoccupation with devils and their tantalizing offers of forbidden knowledge.  It also indicates the self-reflexivity of early prose fiction.  As Cleofas’s “Tutelar Daemon,” Asmodeo promises to “learn you whatever you are desirous to know, inform you of all things which happen in the World, and discover to you all the Faults of Mankind.”[3]  In practice, this involves pulling off the flat roofs of houses in Madrid and exposing what people get up to when they believe they’re alone.  The characterization of Asmodeus preserves the traditional association between devils and forbidden knowledge—which extends from Satan’s connection to the serpent in the Garden of Eden to Mephistopheles of the Faust legend—while transforming it for comic purposes.[4]  Asmodeo’s connection to religious terror is tenuous at best, yet his arcane secrets are nonetheless irresistible and dangerous.  The Devil upon Two Sticks and its many successors are invested in thinking through the exchange of knowledge Asmodeus offers, but they also draw readers’ attention to the kind of knowledge one may gain through such an exchange.  The Devil upon Two Sticks is a particularly self-reflexive work of prose fiction at a time when prose fiction was still emergent.  The text foregrounds its own voyeuristic nature and mocks its potential for offering moral instruction.

Asmodeo and Cleofas wander around the city, unseen as they gather intelligence on oblivious individuals.  The text’s frame narrative—not to mention the central figure of a devil, let loose from a sorcerer’s bottle—responds to contemporary taste for oriental tales.  Both Giovanni Marana’s The Turkish Spy (English translation, 1687-94) and the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments (English translation, 1706-21) had recently begun to capture imaginations in England and France.  Its narrative frame resembles both of those works.  Somewhat like Scheherazade’s unfolding of story after story to maintain Schahriar’s interest, in The Devil upon Two Sticks a compelling central figure tells a series of unfolding stories under threat of punishment.  After all, Asmodeo constantly fears being recalled to the bottle by the sorcerer who entrapped him.  But Cleofas is also on the run:  he flees from a group of men who surprised him with a lady, Donna Thomasa, and with whom they intend to marry on pain of death.  The frame tale signals a deeper concern with the kind of alternative knowledge-making associated with the oriental mode:  knowledge that is rooted in storytelling, derives from forbidden or impossible premises, and seems to come with potentially risky consequences.[5]  But rather than a Faustian deal that ultimately damns him, Don Cleofas receives a no-strings-attached guide to the hidden underbelly of Madrid in the form of Asmodeo’s tales of the city.  Indeed, the knowledge he acquires is illicit but not particularly dangerous or diabolical.  Cleofas gives up nothing and suffers no consequences in exchange for the discovery of his fellow citizens’ secrets.  Moreover, references to Asmodeo’s pedagogical prowess are deeply ironic:  the stories that unfold involve intrigue, deception, and romance, which may indeed comprise some of the “Faults of Mankind” but are not necessarily the stuff of a sound education.  All the risk is Asmodeo’s:  if the sorcerer discovers his absence, he says, “I cannot resist his arbitrary Commands, but shall be forc’d, much against my Will, to appear before him, and submit to whatever Pains he pleases to inflict on me.”[6]  This sense of danger, like the concept of peering into people’s houses, contributes to the urgency of his narration.  The urban space of Madrid (like any other contemporary city) allows close proximity to others and potentially produces anxiety about one’s performance of a social role, even in Asmodeo.  He boasts of his high social standing among demons and remains acutely conscious of the sorcerer’s ability to sense and take control of him, no matter where he is.

The people of Madrid, while in public, embrace their own superficial roles and only reveal their true selves indoors. The devil’s exposure of domestic and social secrets suggests the fragility of such superficial performances, but it also indicates the devil’s role in literary responses to the moral tensions associated with eighteenth-century social life.  As a devil, he occupies a distinct position, clearly outside of human society (not to mention the species) yet an influence on it.  For instance, Asmodeo counts luxury and alchemy among his domains and identifies himself as Cupid.  He thus offers a unique vantage point from which to consider human affairs.  Asmodeo’s perspective is, as Jonathan Arac suggests, “truly a devil’s-eye view, that of a destructive satirist with neither sympathy nor a wish to reveal a complex system of social interrelation, preferring the cynical exposure of individuals.”[7]  This kind of exposure may not necessarily reveal a system of social relations, as Arac contends, but it does rely on complex layers of social identities and the expectations and behaviors that accompany those multiple identities.  Every level of society, from the nobility to prisoners, offers frauds and deceptions to uncover.  The Devil upon Two Sticks is utterly uninterested in deliberating on the ethics of its central pair’s behavior; the frame instead links the text’s pleasurable voyeurism to an amoral and satirical devil figure.

As the text presents readers with the social secrets Asmodeo uncovers, it asks them to reflect on the nature of social knowledge. The anxiety and pleasure on which the narrative is built derive from the impossibility of ascertaining the truth about other people, which is also to say the insufficiency of relying on what one can access through the senses alone.  As Asmodeo grants Cleofas fantastical, unlimited access to people’s private lives and secret thoughts, the text suggests the difficulty of actually deciphering the truth:  in this context, because others are deliberately deceitful, what one sees and hears is not trustworthy information.  In one brief chapter, Asmodeo rapidly surveys a number of people engaged in various deceptions:  for instance, a printer working on a book full of “a Libel” that attempts to prove “that Religion is preferable to Point of Honour; and that it is better to forgive than revenge an Affront,” a suggestion at which both Asmodeo and Cleofas scoff.[8]  Afterward, Asmodeo helps Cleofas seek revenge on his pursuers by compelling them all to throw themselves at Don Cleofas’s erstwhile lover and then to become possessed with jealous rage by the others’ behavior.  As the pair watches in amusement, the men start fighting, and the whole lot ends up in jail, Thomasa included.  Asmodeo refuses to allow Cleofas to avenge himself with violence, preferring to make use of a “Violet-coloured Vapour” that incites the men’s feelings[9].  The men cannot trust their own senses, altered as they are by the devil’s vapor.  Similarly, the purple cloud of gossip can distort one’s perceptions and subsequent behavior.  Even as The Devil upon Two Sticks repeatedly indulges such scenes of voyeurism, it prompts reflection on the limitations of the information the devil provides and the perils of acting on it.

The frame narrative of The Devil upon Two Sticks and its satirical mode proved compelling and influential for eighteenth-century English audiences.  Many subsequent Asmodeus flights simply graft the frame onto new stories, but The Devil upon Two Sticks was also a major influence more generally on eighteenth-century fiction, periodicals, and stage productions.  One of its more enduring legacies was the figure of the supernatural assistant who enables narrative discovery, a mechanism that such writers as Richard Steele, Thomas Berington, and Eliza Haywood later adopted.  The Tatler (1709) appeared shortly after the first English translation of The Devil upon Two Sticks, and its eleventh number makes direct reference to it.  Bickerstaff presents a letter from his cousin, “D. Distaff,” that details their family’s genealogy and concludes with the following note:  “N. B. The Canes, the Clubs, the Cudgels, the Wands, the Devil upon two Sticks, and one Bread, that goes by the name of Staff of Life, are none of our relations.”[10]  Bickerstaff refuses to acknowledge any familial resemblance, even if the basic premise of The Tatler is not unlike The Devil upon Two Sticks.  In addition, a likeness does appear in number fifteen in the form of Pacolet, Bickerstaff’s familiar or guardian angel, who has a supernatural origin as one of those “infants [who] are, after death, to attend mankind to the end of that stamen of being in themselves, which was broke off by sickness or any other disaster.  These are proper guardians to men, as being sensible of the infirmity of their state.”[11]  Pacolet serves much the same function as Asmodeo:  both of them guide humans toward otherwise inaccessible knowledge.

Thomas Berington’s News from the Dead (1715-16) presents what purport to be epistles sent by devils to human readers.  This short-lived periodical makes use of an intricate narrative frame, in which Mercury, as messenger of news of human wickedness to the Infernal Court, relays Lucifer’s grand plan:  he declares, “I am so well satisfy’d with the Duty and Service that’s paid up in . . . Christendom; that out of a mere sense of Gratitude and Generosity, I have Thoughts . . . to settle a publick and standing Correspondence with them.”[12]  The issues that follow cover much ground, including infernal geography, Mercury’s biography, and moral warnings to readers.  Yet the frame carries on the notion that devils provide a special perspective on humanity’s secret indiscretions.  Over a decade later, the many texts published about the Scottish fortune-teller Duncan Campbell, such as Eliza Haywood’s A Spy upon the Conjurer (1724) played with the possibility of Campbell’s access to devilish knowledge (and Steele likewise mentions Duncan Campbell in The Tatler).  Haywood also explored the concept of supernaturally enabled narration in The Invisible Spy (1754), which features Explorabilis, the magically endowed figure of the title who travels, and spies, unseen through London.

Even in the twenty-first century, the Asmodeus flight lingers on.  Alan Moore, the novelist, comics writer, and ceremonial magician, has referred to Asmodeus as a guiding influence in his artistic and occult endeavors.[13]  In his recent novel Jerusalem (2016), an expansive and panoramic work that details life, death, angels, devils, and the psychogeography of the Northampton neighborhood known as the Boroughs (among other things), a chapter titled “An Asmodeus Flight” adapts the genre within the broader context of the novel’s metaphysics.  In Moore’s imagining, the devil is “essentially, a field of living information,” a playful and satirical figure who dispenses knowledge, which he cannot help but do given his composition.[14]  Later, we learn that “it was well known that a devil had no more capacity to lie than did a page of hard statistics.  Like statistics, they could only seriously mislead”[15].  As for the Asmodeus flight, it is a multidimensional journey that enables an individual to glimpse the fourth dimension of time as if from outside (an experience that Asmodeus likens to a two-dimensional stick figure suddenly glimpsing the three-dimensional world that surrounds him).  He corrects the notion that Asmodeus lifts the roofs from houses, saying, “You know, whenever they describe this ride I can provide, they always get it wrong.  They tell how the great devil slippery Sam O’Day, if asked, will bear you up above the world and let you see its homes and houses with their roofs gone, so that all the folk inside are visible. . . .  Yes, I bear people up above the world, but only in the sense that I can lift them, if I choose, into a higher mathematical dimension.”[16].  It is a minor episode within this enormous work, but it serves the purpose of instructing its readers how to read the novel.  Jerusalem invokes a host of literary and artistic genres and persistently asks its readers to think beyond traditional categories of knowledge, such as the dimensions of space and time and the afterlife.  Moore uses the Asmodeus flight to signal his literary lineage:  the devil of satire, the devil of forbidden secrets who will make you a deal if you let him, the devil who lets you see beneath the surfaces of things and beyond ordinary human perceptions.

Given the popularity of The Devil upon Two Sticks, it seems likely that Steele and other writers were at least familiar with it and invoked the concept in their own supernatural narrative frames.  Thus, The Devil upon Two Sticks introduced a novel idea into English literature:  a supernatural being who tantalizes both other characters and readers with the glimpse of knowledge that would otherwise be impossible to know.  Such a being makes the mechanics of the narrative explicit.  At the simplest level, Asmodeo, like Pacolet or Duncan Campbell, serves as a narrative device that explains the fantastical logistics of accessing someone else’s mind, and a wide variety of later eighteenth-century narratives adopted or adapted the technique.  More broadly, Asmodeo and his descendants represent one way that devilry captured the English imagination in the eighteenth century, in a form that aligns with devils’ typical roles as purveyors of the forbidden and in texts that satirize human social life while drawing attention to the questionable material they provide.  What is the devil but knowledge itself?  Among the best-known devils, Satan (of course) and Mephistopheles provide human beings with the chance to surpass ordinary limitations on knowledge; it is up to them what they do with it.  Like Eve and Faust, Cleofas accepts the offer, but the difference is that, in The Devil upon Two Sticks, he receives a night of voyeuristic amusement, even if he would do well not to trust what he sees.

[1] Smollett’s translation is available in a modern edition.  See Tobias Smollett, The Devil upon Crutches.  Ed. Leslie A. Chilton and O. M. Brack.  Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2014.

[2] Charles Dickens, American Notes for General Circulation.  Ed. Patricia Ingham.  New York:  Penguin, 2000:  99.  Most recently, Jason Pearl has discussed the ongoing influence of the Asmodeus flight.  Pearl’s primary subject is The Modern Atalantis; or, The Devil in an Air Balloon (1784), a social satire and “modern Asmodeus flight” (277) that reworks the motif by incorporating the new technology of ballooning.  Pearl, Jason, “The View from Above: Satiric Distance and the Advent of Ballooning in Britain.”  Eighteenth-Century Studies 51.3 (2018):  273-287.

[3] Lesage, Alain-René.  Le Diable Boiteux: or, The Devil upon Two Sticks.  London:  Jacob Tonson, 1708:  7.  Though Asmodeus is the more familiar version of the name, when I discuss The Devil upon Two Sticks I use Asmodeo, the name that appears in this text.

[4] The serpent of Genesis began to be associated with the devil in the second century by early Christian figures such as Justin Martyr and Origen.  For more on this association, see Philip C. Almond, The Devil:  A New Biography.  Ithaca, NY:  Cornell University Press, 2014:  34-38.

[5] For more on the oriental mode of narrative and how it influenced English literature, see Srinivas Aravamudan, Enlightenment Orientalism:  Resisting the Rise of the Novel.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2012.  He contends that Enlightenment Orientalism served as a “fictional mode for dreaming with the Orient . . . a Western style for translating, anatomizing, and desiring the Orient” (8).  The Turkish Spy is a key text for his argument; it “popularized distanced social and cultural observations about strangers made by an observer who is in disguise and passing through” (45).  The Devil on Two Sticks likewise features the observations of an outsider, though Asmodeo reveals to Cleofas the strangeness of the city in which he lives, Madrid.  Asmodeo’s position resembles that of Mahmut, the Turkish spy, but it is notable that he does not become absorbed into the Spanish culture he observes.  Instead, he remains outside, though continually aware of the role that devils play in influencing human lives.

[6] Lesage, 13.

[7] Jonathan Arac, Commissioned Spirits:  The Shaping of Social Movement in Dickens, Carlyle, Melville, and Hawthorne.  New York:  Columbia University Press, 1999:  112.

[8] Lesage, 94.

[9] Lesage, 96.

[10] Steele, Richard.  The Tatler.  Vol. 1, J. Johnson, 1808:  96.

[11] Ibid., 120.

[12] Berington, Thomas.  News from the Dead: or, The Monthly Packet of True Intelligence from the Other World.  W. Needham, 1756:  15.

[13] In an interview with Jay Babcock, Moore details an experience he had with Asmodeus.  He states, “There is a thing which apparently, traditionally he is able to offer one, and this is called the Asmodeus flight.  This is where the demon will pick you up, carry you into the air, into the sky, and you can look down and you can see all of the houses as if their roofs had been removed, so you can see what’s going on inside them.  Now that is not a description of being carried through the air.  That’s not being moved into a higher physical space.  That’s what things would look like if you’d been moved into a higher mathematical space.  If you were actually in the fourth dimension, or if your perceptions were in the fourth dimension, looking down at the third dimension, you wouldn’t see places as if the roofs of the houses had been removed, you’d see around the roofs of the houses.”  See Alan Moore, “Magic Is Afoot,” interview by Jay Babcock, Arthur 4, May 2003,

[14] Alan Moore, Jerusalem.  New York:  Liveright, 2016:  414.

[15] Ibid., 459.

[16] Ibid., 423.

Heterogeneous Blackness: Peter Brathwaite’s Eighteenth-Century Re-portraits

This is a collaborative piece that has emerged out of interviews between Peter Brathwaite and Kerry Sinanan in response to Brathwaite’s Rediscovering Black Portraiture project, 2020. [1]

 . . . (And whose boy am I, and what is
my name?
). Black erasing blackness,
body and backdrop: you are not permitted to enter
the question light asks of his skin as if it were
a field, a mind, a word inclined to be

–From “Vanitas with Negro Boy”, Rickey Laurentiis[2]

Black Servant, England. Unknown artist (1760-1770).

In 10 April 2020, in response to the Getty Museum Challenge to recreate famous works of art on social media during COVID lockdown, Peter Brathwaite, the internationally renowned opera singer, offered Twitter what he thought would be a sole contribution to the project, namely a reworking of an anonymous and not very well-known portrait, Black Servant, ca. 1760-1770.[3] On 29 May, Brathwaite reached 50 reworkings and is continuing now with the work in order, as he says, to “amplify marginalized voices” from the past. In this first painting a smiling Black boy holds aloft a large glass in one hand, and a silver charger in the other, with a small spaniel looking up at him adoringly. This is a classic eighteenth-century scene: enslavement is veiled with civility, materially by the boy’s white shirt and genteel clothes, and ideologically by the presentation of this as a somehow “natural”, unquestioned scene of servitude. The coupling of the Black boy with a pet is common for the period, as Catherine Molineaux writes: “acquiring pets, black slaves and fashionable animals became a form of social currency; they became objects consumed and displayed in a semiotic system of status”.[4] In this system of displayed “objects” the roemer glass, prized for its greenish tint, is notably large and copiously filled, and, alongside the enslaved boy and silverware, works to construct a politeness that is both British and white. As Sinanan has recently argued, displaying glass objects alongside enslaved people is central to the construction of politeness. Many eighteenth-century paintings juxtapose blackness with more modern, transparent, lead glass to do this work in an even more explicit way: “blackness, alongside . . . glass that is prized for its ‘purity,’ intensifies the rhetorical construction of whiteness”.[5] In this image, though, whiteness is constructed through a painterly focus on colour: the boy’s blackness becomes fetishized beside the tints of the wine, the greenish glass and the silver. The boy’s “colour”, rather than his personhood, makes him suitable as an artistic subject. As the eighteenth-century aesthetic theorist, Uvedale Price writes in his Dialogue on the Distinct Characters of the Picturesque and the Beautiful (1801), “blackness . . . has a richness, which, in the painter’s eye, may compensate its comparative monotony, and may, therefore . . . be called beautiful”. Price continues to discuss Joshua Reynold’s painting of Samuel Johnson’s servant, Francis Barber, to emphasize the focus on blackness as being on “tint”, “tone” and “colouring”.[6] While we see a Black servant smiling, he is the subject of a portrait composed by white ideals of the picturesque that racialized skin tone to present the boy for a white gaze.

In Brathwaite’s re-presentation, though, we do not see this portrait alone: alongside it is Brathwaite’s reworking that immediately challenges the eighteenth-century dynamics at work. Brathwaite’s emphasis of the boy’s smile, a more open and slightly freer expression, highlights what is already apparent: this Black boy is a person, not merely a subject of artistic interest, with a real history and life, but one that is erased and not accessible beyond the frame of the painting. The re-portrait prompts questions we may not as readily ask of an artefact located at an historical distance. A free Black man, now, joining his own history and personhood to the boy’s through this reworking, disrupts the naturalization of the eighteenth-century composition to reveal the picturesque scene, using colour, tint, and servitude to forge politeness, as in fact comprising oppression and barbarity. That such a corrective is needed is evidenced by the description of the painting in the Philip Mould Historical Portraits Image Gallery which currently describes the boy as being “a favoured companion” with an “intimate position in his master or more probably mistress’s household . . .trusted and loved by their lapdog”.[7] Such a reading accepts as natural the racialized hierarchies of the boy’s position, and dismisses the realities of Black servitude and enslavement in Britain and its colonies in the mid-eighteenth century to prioritize white affection. As Peter Erickson asserts, “Inclusion of the black servant does not represent benign inclusiveness but is rather keyed to incorporation into a visual regime structured in white dominance”.[8] While in the original portrait the Black boy already disrupts the desired display of objects for consumption with his inevitable personhood, this is much more forcefully felt in the re-portrait. Brathwaite’s free, Black, present personhood, combined with his satire of the spaniel with a stuffed sheep, emphasizes the violence of fetishization and objectification required by eighteenth-century white politeness to construct itself. 250 years after the original portrait, Brathwaite’s re-portrait, with his free smile, offers a “subversive” judgement on the consuming vulgarity of a declined slave-owning culture.

Such a reading – more attentive to the sacrifices required of Black people to make whiteness – has become impossible to avoid in the present context of COVID in which we see significantly higher rates of death and infection among Black people both in the UK and in the US. Since March it has become clear that COVID is wreaking disaster on Black people precisely because systemic racism has left them most vulnerable to its ravages.[9] And within this context, Brathwaite’s portraits give life to figures from the long eighteenth century whose histories and identities were seized by the racist forces that defined the period.

The new venue for their viewing is Twitter, which allows Brathwaite to present both the original painting and his own reworking simultaneously in a Tweet thus visually embedding the latter’s disruptive reworking in the former. Brathwaite names his acts of re-creation as “re-imaginings, disruptions and a re-empowering” and describes his research to find portraits as an “archaeology” a “digging things up”: we are presented with what has been occluded by white canons of art and asked to look at these images in a radical new way. The term “re-portrait” describes the complete image created by Brathwaite that captures both the original painting or photograph, and his own reworking simultaneously, with the hyphen registering both the splice and join of the new image allowed for by social media.[10] The reaction that Brathwaite received to this first re-portrait spurred him on to do more as he realized the “open-ended, wide platform” offered for this vital work of curation and re-creation. The urgency of such a project is even more clear during the rise of BLM 2020 which, in response to the murders of Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and, during the period of protest itself, of Tony McDade, David McAtee, and Rayshard Brooks, has become a global movement for Black liberation. At the time of writing, the protests are in their sixth week and continue to take place all over the world: tragically, so do police brutality and hate crimes against Black people. In this context, Brathwaite’s re-imaginings inevitably become another crucial way to assert, not just the importance of Black life, but the vitality, creative energy, variety, and resistant thriving of it in the face of overwhelming odds.

In Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique, Roderick Ferguson emphasizes the “social heterogeneity that characterizes African American culture” due to its inherent queerness which, he argues, is embodied in the “estrangements” of the Black drag-queen prostitute. This figure, Ferguson argues, “allegorizes and symbolizes” how

African American culture indexes a social heterogeneity that oversteps the boundaries of gender propriety and sexual normativity. That social heterogeneity also indexes formations that are seemingly outside the spatial and temporal bounds of African American culture.[11]

Brathwaite’s work produces beyondness and extraneousness that, interfusing with Brathwaite’s own Bajan roots, presents us with a global sense of Black heterogeneity across centuries, disrupting the raced and gendered norms that encoded Black enslavement and servitude. Encompassing artworks from the 15th century to the present day, Brathwaite has curated portraits of gondoliers, ambassadors, menagerie keepers, flower sellers, street artists, chimney sweeps, soldiers, actors, noble women and more. These figures cross gender, class, and national boundaries, creating a powerful representation of global, heterogeneous Blackness that exceeds the static, foundational image of the enchained Black person as chattel, while also disrupting the libidinal economies of slave culture. As James Edward Ford asserts, “Whiteness takes shape partly through financial economy and partly through libidinal economy”.[12] Brathwaite’s mode of re-portrait on the Twitter platform wrests the Black subject from white libidinal framing to re-present it in Black repossession, creativity and ownership: his re-portraits are forged by a Black gaze. As an opera singer, Brathwaite also regards each re-portrait as a performance complete with set, costume, and his embodiment of the person whom he is re-presenting. In many of the re-portraits Brathwaite uses personal belongings and artefacts of his Bajan culture and such heterogenous, Caribbean Blackness presents a powerful riposte to slavery’s legacy of racist violence.

Brathwaite's re-portrait of Dido; Dido Elizabeth Belle

Dido Elizabeth Belle and Elizabeth Murray, by David Martin (c.1778)

We can see such heterogeneity in one of the most striking 18th-century images in his curation, that of Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804) and her cousin Elizabeth Murray (1760-1825), by David Martin (ca. 1778).[13] In his re-portrait, the original double portrait is cropped, taking Elizabeth Murray out and leaving only Dido. In this powerful move, Brathwaite reverses the dynamics of racist exclusion to center Dido as the main figure alongside his reinterpretation. While most of the re-portraits Brathwaite has made are of men and boys, here, we clearly see the relevance of Ferguson’s idea of Black culture as figured by the heterogeneity of drag. Brathwaite did not explicitly have this idea in mind when he produced his Dido, but acknowledges the potential for radical heterogeneity in his “cross-dressing” image. This particular representation of Blackness, already transgressive in Martin’s painting, is accentuated by Brathwaite “to subvert” as the re-portrait crosses gender and raced norms. Arguably, Brathwaite’s beard is not the most disruptive aspect of the re-portrait: rather it is his smile and, as he asserts, the “cheeky expression” he deliberately creates to accentuate his Dido’s freedom and independence. Brathwaite consciously infuses his performance and posing for the reworkings with new, subtle interpretations of the figures’ looks, postures and positions that force questions about the dynamics of oppression and emancipation at work. Here, Brathwaite reads the original painting of Elizabeth Murray’s hand on Dido as perhaps “a push” away, out of the space and thus in the re-portrait the hand is more of a grip, either of welcome or of possession, registering the libidinal economies of white/Black relations.

As Gretchen H. Gerzina discusses, how to read the women’s poses in the original double portrait remains contested and she argues that “the two cousins exhibit a closeness and ease”, “like sisters”, that they are comfortable to express to the painter.[14] Yet, such sisterliness cannot transcend the raced dynamics within the portrait as we read the contrast of Dido’s white silk dress against her skin and the luminous whiteness of Elizabeth’s body. Elizabeth is to the fore, albeit the running Dido somewhat decenters her. The bond the women had cannot escape these dynamics, imbricated, as it was, materially in the fact that Dido’s own mother was an enslaved woman and in the fact of Dido’s blackness.[15] Reading intimacies within such economies is fraught. In his reworking, Brathwaite deliberately presents Dido as “delighting” in her movement away, and as more mischievously rejecting the claim of whiteness upon her as she runs into the light, refusing her role as “bearer” even to a loving cousin. While these disruptions are apparent in the original painting, the drag dynamic of Brathwaite’s re-portrait registers the productive heterogeneity of Dido and accentuates the emancipatory potential to make Dido both “more comfortable and powerful”, and, crucially, uncoupled from the white femininity of her cousin.

Joseph Johnson, by John Thomas Smith (1815).

Brathwaite’s re-portraits also present Black heterogeneity in terms of class. On the point of completing fifty re-portraits, Brathwaite launched an online vote for the public’s favourite and an image from the long eighteenth century won, an etching of Joseph Johnson by John Thomas Smith (1815). Johnson was a former Merchant Navy seaman who had been reduced to homelessness in London after the Napoleonic Wars. He devised an act of street art in which he built and wore a large wooden model of the HMS Nelson to busk for money. On a very basic level, it is remarkable that Brathwaite’s work has brought this image of a free but poor Black man in nineteenth-century Britain to public attention, especially in the current moment. The original print first appeared in a set, originally entitled, Etchings of Remarkable Beggars, Itinerant Traders and Other Persons of Notoriety In London and Its Environs (1815). As Eddie Chambers writes:

Within a year or so, the prints appeared in book form, the publication having been given the equally extravagant title Vagabondiana or, Anecdotes of Mendicant Wanderers through the Streets of London; with Portraits of the Most Remarkable, Drawn From the Life by John Thomas Smith (Keeper of the Prints in the British Museum) produced etchings that were amongst the earliest attempts to depict the poor of London in ways that sought to avoid caricature, and relied to some extent on the artist’s quest to capture the personalities of his subjects as well as the hardships they reflected.[16]

Chambers’ detailed account of Johnson emphasizes how he was able to create a novel and effective act of street art to survive. The subversive potential of Johnson’s act was considerable: his choice of the Nelson immediately located him in a British narrative of heroism, the Battle of Trafalgar, familiar to all, to counteract his precarious status. Johnson’s act affirms that he, too, is a Briton. Chambers asserts that this print is also “one of the first documented examples of a Black-British artist (in this case a sculptor) in London”.[17] The original print certainly registers the carnivalesque potential of Johnson, further accentuated by Brathwaite’s re-portrait which displays the multi-faceted skill it would have taken accomplish such an act from sculpting to busking. As we think of Brathwaite preparing for his performance, we simultaneously think of Johnson preparing for his and become more aware of the artistry involved. Brathwaite’s crafting of his ship from cardboard highlights the self-made aspect of Johnson’s much more accomplished sculpture, and Brathwaite’s outfit and selected props all intensify the deliberate performance elements of Johnson, showing him to be in charge of his own art as protest. As Brathwaite notes on his online gallery, the sight of a ship on a Black man’s head would also have likely reminded his audience and passers-by of the slave ship: Johnson is physically “below deck” having placed the ship on his own head but now as a free man who has reinterpreted the ship as a sign, not just of white liberty, but of Black emancipation. While the transatlantic slave trade had been abolished in 1807, emancipation was still a long way off.  Johnson’s performance was also, then, an anti-slavery disruption of the libidinal economies of consuming sugar and other goods from the Caribbean, redirecting pleasure into subversive laughter. The sense of the Black person as “carrying” a culture dependent on slavery is captured by Brathwaite’s re-portrait in which his more serious expression as he looks up at this ship, registers a sense of judgement and weariness. That the public on Twitter selected Johnson as their favourite re-portrait speaks to the current rise in an awareness of transatlantic slavery’s role in the present and of how this re-portrait has reframed Johnson as an abolitionist precursor to Black Lives Matter protest in the eighteenth century.

Still Life with Moor and Parrot by Jan Davidz. de Heem (1641).

The heterogeneity of global Blackness is visible in the props Brathwaite uses to replace objects in the original paintings. Thus, in Jan Davidsz De Heem, Still life with Moor and Parrot (1641), Brathwaite replaces the mirror, a sign of vanity, with an African print, and the luxurious lobster with Caribbean saltfish and pepper sauce. The props of white power, already critiqued in the original vanitas genre, are now replaced by productive Black lives and cultures that have survived enslavement. These supplantings are also critiques, mocking the object-fixation that drove consumption in the long eighteenth century. That this consumption depended on the subjugation of colonized others is made clear by the Black boy to the right, peeking in on this display of artefacts, to become another “object” in the display. However, in Brathwaite’s re-portrait, the figure’s gaze falls mockingly on a copy of Richard Ligon’s A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes (1657), instead of on the monkey he is visually twinned with in the original. As Molineaux argues, the “association of blacks and monkeys as common products of the African continent” was prevalent in the period that regarded both as exotic accoutrements of fashionable life.[18] Ligon could simply not have imagined the Black lives that would emerge from the practices of plantation slavery that he witnessed being tried and tested in mid 17th-century Barbados: in Brathwaite’s display Ligon’s History, in which enslaved people are listed as “stock” along with “Horses, Cattle, Camels” becomes a piece of old bric à brac, debunked and looked on with appropriate mockery.[19]

Vanitas with Negro Boy by David Bailly (1650).

The challenge to white patriarchal slave culture is challenged in many re-portraits. In his reworking of David Bailly’s Vanitas with Negro Boy (ca.1650), Brathwaite replaces the miniature portrait of the white patron held by the Black boy, with “a picture of my ancestor Miles Brathwaite and the will of a Planter great-grandfather”. At the other end of slavery’s long history, the manumission papers of Brathwaite’s great, great, great, great-grandmother, Peggy, are held by him in his re-portrait of H.L. Stephens’ Man Reading Headline: Presidential Proclamation, Slavery (1863). Working with a researcher, and in the Barbados archives, Brathwaite was able to recover these vital documents of his own family’s emancipation on his mother’s side. As Hortense Spillers tells us, the scene of slavery’s capture of African people, “marked a theft of the body—a willful and violent (and unimaginable from this distance), severing of the captive body from its motive will, its active desire”. This captive body, separated from a more liberated pre-captive flesh, is for Spillers “as a category of otherness . . . embodies sheer physical powerlessness that slides into a more general ‘powerlessness,’ resonating through various centers of human and social meaning”.[20] Brathwaite’s re-portraits seize Black people from the art of the long 18th-century in which they have been objectified as bodies. In Brathwaite’s re-portrait Peggy’s papers, held in the hands of her descendant smiling with glee, symbolically moves Peggy back into the flesh and blood of her free grandson. He holds her physically in his radical act of curation. Brathwaite’s Caribbean and Black British artefacts, along with his body that is able to perform and recreate these many moments, are signs of a global Black resistance movement for emancipation which, while still not fulfilled, remains a creative site of persistence.

Brathwaite’s grandmother’s Bajan quilt hangs in many of the re-portraits as perhaps the most visually striking creative artefact, representing a new Caribbean culture of matriarchal materiality that replaces the materiality of patriarchal white power in the originals. This representation of Bajan folk art is vital for Brathwaite, not just as a riposte to the past, but also as a critique of current cultures of consumption in present-day tourism. Barbados remains in the British imagination as “Little England”, and British tourism a form of neo-colonial possession. In this economy of tourism in which Caribbean culture is commodified, as Brathwaite notes, older, Bajan “folk songs are now a dying culture”. Brathwaite places a book of Bajan folk songs in several re-portraits as he feels “an urgency to preserve them”.

The Paston Treasure, by unknown painter (1665).

In the painting, The Paston Treasure (ca. 1663) commissioned either by Sir William or his son Robert Paston, the plush red velvet hanging backdrop to the dizzying display of luxurious objects is replaced by his grandmother’s quilt, alongside a large swathe of fabric printed with repeating Union Jack flags. The drapings fuse Caribbean and Black Britishness, which claims the Union Jack, to represent the people who came to post-war Britain at the government’s invitation, to help rebuild the country. Brathwaite’s mother came to England from Barbados in the wake of the Windrush generation as a nurse and so both drapings can be read as matriarchal reclamations of the middle passage: the voyage of Caribbean people undertaken in the push for a better life, a self-determined step along the path to emancipation. Such a statement at a time when the British government continues its illegal deporting of Windrush generation British citizens to the Caribbean is even more vital. The quilt and the Union Jack, both repositioned and displayed in Brathwaite’s re-portrait, offer a powerful corrective to the histories of Black people in Britain as projected by colonial power.

In his reworking of The Paston Treasure, Brathwaite’s smiling figure replaces the Black boy as he looks up, once more, at a toy, stuffed-monkey. In the original, the racist twinning of the monkey on the boy’s shoulder again signifies the semiotic association in the long eighteenth century of monkeys with Black people, both reduced to consumable, exotic objects in this world of material wealth. Brathwaite’s figure, clothed in Côte d’Ivoire prints, has been reclaimed by African culture and sits among a range of Black cultural products that are not for white consumption. Brathwaite feels that such “standing in” for the original Black people in the paintings is a powerful act of curation which brings them back into Black ownership and into our present line of vision. That such a correction is vital is evidenced by the fact that a collaborative project on the painting in 2018 between Yale Center for British Art and Norwich Castle focuses on the painting as an object and on the history of the Paston family. In the specially commissioned short film about it, A Painting Like No Other, narrated by Stephen Fry, he describes the glittering objects and the painterly techniques that created them. The dimmed colours around the boy are noted: the “dazzling yellows have now faded to muted brown and the vibrant reds, are now grey”, Fry tells us. In contrast, Brathwaite’s re-presencing of the boy makes him the most notable aspect of the re-portrait which, while it imbues the original person with respect and visibility, also offers an important perspective on both a past and present fascination with material culture and its shiny things that can often obscure Black people, their lives, and their labour.[21] We see Brathwaite himself as an descendant of the boy, free and able to re-make The Paston Treasure with his perspective and creativity. Brathwaite displaces the objects in the vanitas, signs of dissolution and corrupt indulgence, with his and his family’s belongings, as the re-portrait title lists: “Reworked with – Afro hair products, Côte d’Ivoire prints, granny’s patchwork, Jessye Norman, Leontyne Price and family luggage from their arrival in the UK”. This is the new bric-à-brac, a living, creative culture of exchange, created by those who have come after the boy in the painting.

In his Nobel Prize for literature speech, ‘The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory’, Derek Walcott describes Antillean culture as comprised of “shards” and “pieces”:

Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole. The glue that fits the pieces is the sealing of its original shape. It is such a love that reassembles our African and Asiatic fragments, the cracked heirlooms whose restoration shows its white scars. This gathering of broken pieces is the care and pain of the Antilles, and if the pieces are disparate, ill-fitting, they contain more pain than their original sculpture, those icons and sacred vessels taken for granted in their ancestral places. Antillean art is this restoration of our shattered histories, our shards of vocabulary, our archipelago becoming a synonym for pieces broken off from the original continent.[22]

Brathwaite’s Black re-portraiture, like his grandmother’s colourful quilt, is composed of such lovingly gathered pieces, “restored” to presence in his new images. The word “curation” has its etymological roots in the word “cura”, meaning “to take care of”, and Brathwaite has taken great care to rediscover these paintings and images and refocus on the forgotten Black people within them. The “white scars” are visible in the spliced frames that both join and separate the pieces of the new work of art, like a quilt. His grandmother’s quilt, too, comprises gathered and kept “shards” of fabric, crafting the worn textiles into something vibrant to be passed on in an act of matrilinear continuity to heal the fragmentation of Antillean history that was underpinned by the separation of mothers from their children. In her essay “Odes to the Mountains of Jamaica”, Jacqueline Bishop writes about her Jamaican great grandmother and her last visit to her “maternal ancestral home”, Nonsuch, Portland. During her visit, Bishop ponders the quilts her great grandmother has made that she will inherit:

Spectacular quilts. Bold in colour, composition and design. . . I loved the piecing of things together, of trying to make something whole out of pieces, of something old taking on new life, of one thing becoming another; of making so much beauty out of the scraps of life.[23]

Like the quilts of Caribbean women, Brathwaite’s re-portraits gather and relocate eighteenth-century Black people into a new, Antillean art, rescuing them, reclaiming them from the possession of white culture back into the presence of Black inheritance.

Peter Brathwaite is a British opera singer. After his degree at Newcastle University he trained at the Royal College of Music, London and Flanders Opera Studio, Belgium. Recent and future engagements include performances with the Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Glyndebourne, La Monnaie, Nederlandse Reisopera, Opéra de Lyon and Opera North. He has written for The Guardian and The Independent. Documentary work includes BBC Radio 4’s Black Music in Europe 2, presented by Clarke Peters. He currently writes and presents features for BBC Radio 3’s Essential Classics. Peter is a Churchill Fellow, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and a Trustee of the Gate Theatre, London.



[1]  Go to this website to see the re-portraits.

Direct quotations from Peter Brathwaite, taken from interviews conducted in May and June 2020 are in quotation marks.

[2] Rickey Laurentiis, Boy with Thorn (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015).

[3] Philip Mould names the painting as: A Servant ca. 1770.,-Colonial-School-%7C-School–Colonial

[4] Catherine Molineaux, ‘Hogarth’s Fashionable Slaves: Moral Corruption in Eighteenth-Century London’. English Literary History, Volume 72, Number 2, Summer 2005, pp.495-520. 498.

[5] Kerry Sinanan, ‘Slavery and Glass: Tropes of Race and Reflection’. In In Sparkling Company: Reflections on Glass in the Eighteenth-Century World, ed. Christopher Maxwell (Corning: Corning Museum of Glass, 2020), 10.

[6] Uvedale Price, A Dialogue on the Distinct Characters of the Picturesque and the Beautiful, in Answer to the Objections of Mr Knight. Prefaced by an Introductory Essay on Beauty; with Remarks on the Ideas of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Mr Burke Upon the Subject (London: J. Robson, 1801), 53. See Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of a Man, probably Francis Barber, ca. 1770.

[7] Philip Mould, ‘Historical Portraits Image Gallery’, ‘A Servant c.1770’  Accessed on 22 June, 2020.

[8] Peter Erickson, ‘Invisibility Speaks: Servants and Portraits in Early Modern Visual Culture’. Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, Spring-Summer, 2009, Vol. 9, No, 1, pp. 23-61. 34.

[9] See Orlando Patterson’s definition of slavery as ‘social death’ , now part of Afropessimism. See Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982). And, Frank Wilderson, Red, White, and Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010). And, Joy James, “Black Suffering in Search of the ‘Beloved Community’: Political Imprisonment and Self-Defence.” Trans-scripts: An Intersdisciplinary Online Journal in the Humanities and Social Sciences at UC Irvine 1 (2011).

[10] Brathwaite’s re-portraits can be viewed as part of a larger Caribbean culture of writing back, often undertaken by those in exile. Writers and poets including Louise Bennet, Jean Rhys, Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite, George Lamming and Sam Selvon participate in this intertextual, corrective approach to Western literature. Alison Donnell describes this as ‘a counter-discursive (writing back) approach’. See, Alison Donnell and Sarah Lawson Welsh eds., The Routledge Reader in Caribbean Literature (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), 116.

[11] Roderick Ferguson, Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique (London and Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 2-3. Ferguson mobilizes the figure of the Black drag queen prostitute to point out the ways in which she challenges the fixed categories of “identity” and difference, produced by sociology, that work to conceal intersectionality. His queer of colour critique offers ways to disrupt categories of racialized and sexualized difference to enable a more heterogeneous mode of critique that avoids curtailing disruptive, emancipatory cultural possibilities.

[12] James Edward Ford, Thinking through Crisis: Depression-Era Black Literature, Theory, and Politics (Fordham University Press, 2019), 183. Understanding the libidinal as interwoven with the material economies of slavery is fundamental to Afropessimism. As Frank B. Wilderson notes: “Jared Sexton describes libidinal economy as ‘the economy, or distribution and arrangement, of desire and identification (their condensation and displacement), and the complex relationship between sexuality and the unconscious.’ Needless to say, libidinal economy functions variously across scales and is as ‘objective’ as political economy. Importantly, it is linked not only to forms of attraction, affection and alliance, but also to aggression, destruction, and the violence of lethal consumption. Sexton emphasizes that it is ‘the whole structure of psychic and emotional life,’ something more than, but inclusive of or traversed by, what Gramsci and other Marxists call a ‘structure of feeling’; it is ‘a dispensation of energies, concerns, points of attention, anxieties, pleasures, appetites, revulsions, and phobias capable of both great mobility and tenacious fixation.’” In Red, White and Black. Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 7.

[13] As Gretchen H. Gerzina tells us, the attribution of the original double portrait has been contested. “Although long attributed to Johann Zoffany, there are now a number of reasons to suspect that the double portrait was painted by someone else. . . Most recent attributions settle upon David Martin, a fellow Sot who had painted the magnificent portrait of Lord Mansfield in his robes and was a protégé of the famous painter Allan Ramsay.” 171. Gerzina seems persuaded by the idea that both painters ‘had a hand in the painting’”. ‘The Georgian Life and Modern Afterlife of Dido Elizabeth Belle’. In Britain’s Black Past ed. Gretchen H. Gerzina (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2020), 172. The painting is now at Scone Palace, Perth, Scotland.

[14] Gerzina, 172.

[15] Gerzina’s work on Dido Belle is also based on the archival research undertaken by Sarah Murden and Joanne Major in their Blopost, All Things Georgian. See, “Dido Elizabeth Belle”, Joanne Major, June 26 2018.

See, “Dido Elizabeth Belle, her Portrait”, Sarah Murden, September 13, 2018.

And, see Gerzina’s historical account of Maria Belle and Sir John Lindsay, Dido’s parents, pp. 163-166. “Speculation has always suggested that Maria was taken as a prize from a Spanish ship and was an enslaved person when she was ‘acquired’ by Lindsay, who freed her at some point before 1772”, 164.

[16] Eddie Chambers, Black Artists in British Art. A History since the 1950s (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), xii.

[17] Chambers, xv.

[18] Molineaux, 511.

[19] Richard Ligon, A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes (London: Humphrey Moseley, 1657), 108.

[20] Hortense J. Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book.” Diacritics 17, No. 2, 1987: 65-81. 67.

[21] The urgent need to address this history of the erasure of slavery and Black people from British cultural history has recently been described by Sally-Anne Huxtable in Addressing the Histories of Slavery and Colonialism at the National Trust (National Trust, 2020). Accessed on 24 June, 2020.

[22] Derek Walcott, ‘The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory’, Nobel Lecture, December 7, 1992. Accessed on 24 June, 2020.

[23] Jacqueline Bishop, “Odes to the Mountains of Jamaica”, Woman Speak. A Journal of Writing and Art by Caribbean Women (WomenSpeak Books, 2016). Vol. 8, 2016. Ed. Lynn Sweeting, 98.

“This is not the end!”: 1719!, Jacobite Ballads, and Scotland’s Cyclical History of Resistance

An image of the printed broadside The True Scots Mens LamentSince January 2019, the Scottish Opera has been holding interactive performances of a Jacobite-themed production entitled 1719! in dozens of primary schools across Scotland. The opera addresses the Jacobite wars, in particular, the minor rising of 1719, which the Scottish Opera’s press release calls “a key moment in Scottish history” (“Scottish Opera’s”). Clearly the Scottish Opera chose the 1719 rising as subject matter in part due to its tercentenary, but there is additional significance in reviving this rising as a part of Scottish cultural memory at all, let alone at this exact moment. I argue that 1719! echoes many of the culturally-centered interests of the so-called Jacobite ballads circulating around the time of the rising. Though 1719! does not necessarily draw from such ballads, it demonstrates shared patterns of thought: both 1719! and Jacobite ballads instrumentalize the past to cultivate a unique Scottish identity and sense of a cyclical history that resonates with contemporary cultural and political aspirations.

While its more famous predecessor, the Jacobite Rising of 1715, or the Fifteen, was inconclusive on the battlefield in the Battle of Sheriffmuir, the 1719 attempt to restore the Stuart line to the British throne was, for all intents and purposes, a short-lived and failed endeavor. Yet, the rising was unique in terms of its foreign involvement: hoping to “cripple England” or, at least, distract the nation from its mercantile competition with Spain in the Mediterranean (Sinclair-Stevenson 168), Spanish Chief Minister Giulio Alberoni arranged for thousands of Spanish troops to partake in the rising. In reality, only about 300 Spanish forces would arrive in Britain due to poor weather (Worton 115). The small Spanish contingent along with Scottish Jacobites nonetheless undertook the rising and suffered a decisive defeat. 1719! provides an overview of these events and then some, first establishing the rivalry between James Stuart and George of Hanover and then referring to the 1692 Massacre at Glencoe. The opera goes on to offer a rendition of the Battle of Sheriffmuir, which is framed as an attempt by the Jacobites to avenge the massacre. Finally, the opera dramatizes its namesake, drawing particular attention to Spain’s involvement in the rising. It concludes with James’s reference to the birth of Charles Edward Stuart, or Bonnie Prince Charlie, and the promise that, “This is not the end!” (11).

In a sense, eighteenth-century broadside ballads act as analogues to 1719!: though perhaps not direct sources, examination of Jacobite ballads printed around 1719 in relation to 1719! reveals similar cultural and political sentiments articulated by similar methods, namely through a re-imagined Scottish history. To this end, I will first discuss the Jacobite ballad “The True Scots Mens Lament for the Loss of the Rights of their Ancient Kingdom,”[1] written before the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland and reprinted in 1718, and its strategic appeal to the past both in its content and in its 1718 re-distribution. I will then proceed to investigate resonances in 1719!

“The True Scots Mens Lament” repudiates the encroaching Act of Union between Scotland and England, shown in lines such as “The Union will thy [Britain’s] Ruine be” (45). While confronting the imminent union, the ballad also speaks both implicitly and explicitly to Jacobitism. In part, it is inevitable that discussion of the union be tied with Jacobitism: after all, the proposal of the union emerged in part as a way for the English government to persuade the “Scottish Parliament to accept the Hanoverian succession, and… stop it backing the Stewarts” (Bambery 55). However, it is the ballad’s recurring appeal to Scotland’s “old long sine” (8), also called “Guid Auld Lang Syne” or “good times long past,” that clearly aligns with Jacobite interests. According to William Donaldson, the concept of Guid Auld Lang Syne—imbued with the “doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings”—served as an “alternative history” for eighteenth-century Scotsmen: “it was made up of a tissue of myth and legend stretching back into the remotest antiquity, and provided a heroic backdrop against which they viewed themselves, a frame for their thinking, and the driving force behind their politics” (5). The use of Scotland’s glorious history in “The True Scots Mens Lament” reflects Donaldson’s assessment: appealing to the past, the ballad functions as an ideological tool for self-identification and, for some, a catalyst for political action.

Besides taking on “old long sine” as its refrain, the ballad reflects this theme in its portrayal of a valorous Scottish history: it memorializes Scottish victories against foes such as Caesar, idealizes heroes who resisted English domination such as William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, and glorifies “our Nation sometime brave, / invincible and stout” (49-50). By establishing a distinctly Scottish history of bravery, pursuit of freedom, and struggle—against England specifically in many cases—the ballad not only fosters a distinctive Scottish identity but one defined by resistance and opposition to England. Furthermore, in chronicling struggle after struggle, “The True Scots Mens Lament” can also been seen as reflecting the “Jacobite commitment to typological/cyclical history” (Harol 55). More than a marker of Scottishness, rebellion appears as a natural and inevitable pattern in Scottish history. The ballad seems to validate the continuance of this cycle. Reflections such as “How oft have our Fore-fathers / spent their Blood in its [Scotland’s] Defence” (17-8) underscore such a reading: the ballad contributes to an imagined Scottish community with shared “Fore-fathers” and a shared history of resistance, which, ostensibly, should be channeled through further struggle against English domination.

The ballad also signals Jacobitical, political concerns by drawing attention to issues of dynastic reign. For example, queries such as “Shall Monarchy be quite forgot” (1) and “What shall become now of our Crown, / we have so long possest?” (9-10) clearly allude to the Stuart line, who had claim to the Scottish—and English—“Crown.” Significantly, no Scottish king reigned since James II’s deposal in 1689, making these questions less relevant to the impending union itself than to the restoration of the Stuart dynasty. Furthermore, the ballad also addresses the Stuart line through its appeal to the “Auld Alliance,” an agreement between France and Scotland in the thirteenth through sixteenth centuries that if one nation had a military dispute with England, the other would engage. After showing dissatisfaction at the encroaching union with England, the ballad entreats, “Why did you thy Union break / thou had of late with France” (105-6). As Murray G. H. Pittock argues, the ballad’s allusion to this alliance “refers to the dream of sixteenth-century Scottish Catholic monarchy: that Mary Stuart, Mary of Guise’s daughter, should be queen (as she briefly was) of France and Scots” (139). Though framed as a nostalgic view of the Scottish past, the ballad is in fact coded with nostalgia for the Stuart dynasty and what could have been. Furthermore, by glorifying Scotland’s relationship with France, a Catholic nation that was currently sheltering the exiled James Francis Edward Stuart and had assisted his father in the Williamite War, the ballad could also covertly show praise for France’s sympathy to the Jacobite cause and express persistent allegiance to the Stuart line. Under the guise of promoting a sense of nostalgia and lament—of remembering “old long sine”—the ballad urges the Scottish people to recognize their historical and cultural difference from England, reaffirm their dynastic allegiance, and, perhaps, perpetuate acts of resistance.

While the content of “The True Scots Mens Lament” demonstrates instrumentalization of the past for cultural and political purposes, its reprinting in Edinburgh in 1718—over a decade after the Act of Union—served a similar aim. In response to the Fifteen and the stirrings of the 1719 rising, government officials cracked down on seditious language: singing or possessing seditious ballads could result in imprisonment and, in rare cases, even execution, though the latter was generally reserved for ballad printers (McDowell 158-159). This compelled ballad-makers to use covert methods to express any Jacobite sentiment. Some ballads such as “The True Lovers Knot Untied” (circa 1687-1732) and “A New Song, Commemorating the Birth Day of her Late Majesty Queen Ann” (circa 1718) portrayed more distant and innocuous members of the Stuart line, such as Lady Arbella and Queen Ann, in a favorable light to show Jacobite allegiance. Another coded strategy was to portray the Jacobite identity and interests “as both de-activated and anachronistic (that is, both passive and in the past)” within ballads (Harol 584). By reviving old Jacobite ballads such as “The True Scots Mens Lament,” ballad distributors and their clientele could not only monopolize on the national consciousness-raising and Jacobitical themes inherent in the ballad, but appeal to contemporary political aspirations with impunity.

Like other Jacobite ballads circulating at this time, “The True Scots Mens Lament” functioned as “an ideological counter-core for those who wished to preserve Scottish cultural and political identity” post-Union (Pittock 134): its redistribution was, in effect, a reassertion of Scotland’s cultural and political difference from England, despite the its lack of governmental representation. Beyond reinforcing a shared Scottish cultural consciousness, however, the ballad’s reprint validated rebellion as an intrinsic, if not necessary, part of Scottish culture.[2] By disseminating a pre-Union ballad that established a trend of Scottish resistance in the aftermath of the Fifteen, ballad-distributors implied that this rebellion offered yet another episode in Scotland’s cyclical history. In other words, it attested to a pattern of struggle in Scotland’s past that continued—and would continue—unabated until the Stuart line was restored and the union with England broken. It also covertly suggested that future rebellions—such as the imminent 1719 rising—were inevitable, if not “providential” (Harol 588).

While “The True Scots Mens Lament” documented, and approbated, a Scottish culture of resistance through historical events, it is worth noting that contemporary ballads likewise reflected the perpetual fight for Scottish liberty through domestic, “individuated” subject matter (Pittock 139). The ballad “A New Song, To the Tune of Lochaber No more” (circa 1723), for instance, features a young man compelled to leave his love and land to fight “Since Honour commands me” (18). Though the ballad does not specify that he fights for the Jacobite cause, for obvious reasons, the fact that its “air at an earlier period is said to have been called ‘King James’s march to Ireland’” implies this (Whitelaw 137).[3] In any case, the lover’s almost natural imperative to fight and his hopeful conclusion, “And if I should luck to come gloriously Hame, / I’ll bring a Heart to thee with Love running o’er, / And then I’ll leave thee and Lochaber no more” (22-4), can be read as mirroring Scotland’s undying hope and unending struggle for liberty.

To return to “The True Scots Mens Lament” not only did the reprint—like many other contemporary works—covertly endorse Scottish resistance, but it also served to reaffirm Scotland’s continental ties and Jacobite allegiance. As stated, the ballad’s nostalgic gesture to the “Auld Alliance” engages in Jacobite coding as well as displays a preference for Scotland’s past alliance with France over a union with England. This reference had further, and slightly altered, significance in 1718. At this time, France’s focus had shifted from its Jacobite sympathies towards a fruitful alliance with England (Worton 31). That being said, the Jacobite cause still had links to France both because of its previous decades of support and the exiled Jacobites that still resided there. While the reference could continue to resonate in terms of Scotland’s connection to France—and in terms of its nostalgia for a shared Catholic sovereign—it could have also resonated with another continental nation: Spain. Though a tiny fraction arrived in Britain due to storms, there were plans for 5,000 Spaniards to take part in the 1719 rising (Sinclair-Stevenson 169). The ballad’s sentiments of idealizing Scotland’s continental relationships—and distancing Scotland from England in the process—would have thus had continued significance, and additional implications, at this time.

Interestingly, despite Britain’s in-roads with France, contemporary anti-Jacobite ballads also aligned these foreign nations with the Jacobite cause. One ballad “A New Song, Concerning Two Games at Cards, Playd Betwixt the King of England, King of France, and Queen of Spain; Shewing the true Honour and Honesty of Old England against the Pretender” (circa 1719), as its title implies, directly links Spain and France with the “Pretender,” or James Francis Edward Stuart. It also specifies “Old England” rather than Britain, purposefully disassociating England from Scotland. Another anti-Jacobite ballad, “A Hymn, to the Victory in Scotland,” similarly creates this division. Describing the 1719 Battle of Glen Shiel as “Battle, sharp and bloody, / Beyond the reach of humane study…‘Gainst study Scots and Spaniards proud” (252), the ballad makes a point of portraying Scotland as in league with Spain. Rather than calling the rebels Jacobites, throughout the ballad they are referred to by their Scottish identities only. Such ballads purposefully highlight the distinction, and opposition, between Scotland and England.

Examination of early-eighteenth-century Jacobite ballads reveals the promotion of a Scottish national consciousness defined by its distinction from England, its association with continental Europe, and its cyclical history of resistance. As suggested, similar patterns of thinking reverberate in the Scottish Opera’s 1719! show. An educational production, the opera teaches primary school students about the Jacobite risings and engages them directly: while members of the Scottish Opera take the larger roles of James Stuart, George of Hanover, and King Phillip of Spain, students sing along as groups of Jacobites, Hanoverians, and Spaniards. Far from a replication of the ballads that circulated around 1719, the opera nonetheless establishes a distinctive Scottish identity and perpetuates the notion of a cyclical Scottish history steeped in adversity and resistance. Coming as it does in the wake of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, which failed by a small margin, Brexit, which threatens Scotland’s continental relationships, and consequent appeals for another referendum, this cultural cultivation arguably has political resonance.

1719! opens with initial disputes between George of Hanover and James Stuart, during which it establishes the idea of Scotland’s perpetual desire for freedom: “Everybody dreams of a night / When we need no longer to fight / Happy we’d be: blessed and free” (3). Immediately, the opera characterizes Scotland’s history—and, implicitly, Scottishness itself—in terms of rebellion and liberty. The remainder of the opera follows this theme, chronicling cycles of Scottish struggle in the Massacre of Glencoe, the Fifteen, and the 1719 rising. Most likely, 1719! did not directly build off ballad tradition but is influenced by national poets like Robert Burns and Lady Nairne, who themselves “derived one imperative injunction from the Jacobites… to define resistance as the ground of Scottish national consciousness” (McGuirk 253). Nevertheless, in principle, the opera is reminiscent of “The True Scots Mens Lament” both in its memorialization of “old long sine” and its cultivation of a history of rebellion. The opera fosters a unique Scottish identity defined by resistance, which “is related to an entrenched sense of a distinctive national past, buttressed by successive generations of Scottish history writing” (Smith xi).

1719! not only validates this Scottish identity and documents a cyclical Scottish past but implies that Scotland’s “typological or providential history” lives on (Harol 588). This is shown when James Francis Edward Stuart proclaims towards the opera’s end, “now we place our hopes upon this bonnie new prince Charlie” (11). Within the circumstances of the opera, this allusion to the 1745 rising—undertaken by James’s son Charles Edward Stuart—implies that the fight will, must, or is even fated to continue. Perhaps even more interesting in this respect is the opera’s address to its audience:

Is there a just war?
What would you fight for?
Fight if you choose—you might lose.
Hands we extend—friend unto friend
Shall we contend—is this the end? (10)

The opera’s last words provide an answer: “This is not the end!” (11). After establishing an inevitable trend of Scottish resistance, 1719! concludes with the assurance that Scotland’s struggle for liberty will persist. While on one level it does refer to Bonnie Prince Charlie continuing the fight, given the opera’s direct address of its audience and the fact that Charles was obviously unsuccessful, one can assume that 1719! also speaks to current circumstances. Of course, the opera does not advocate violence—a fact underscored by its anxieties over whether “just war” is possible and its peaceful sentiment of “friend unto friend / Hands we extend.” Yet,
in the context of calls for a second referendum on Scottish independence, the opera implies Scotland’s contemporary desire for sovereignty follows a historical pattern or imperative.

The portrayal of foreign involvement in Scottish history also takes on renewed significance in this context. Just as the Jacobite ballad’s reference to the Auld Alliance aligned Scotland with continental nations and established its “antiquity as a nation apart from England” (Ichijo x), 1719!’s depiction of Scotland’s alliance with Spain in the Battle of Glen Shiel works to a similar effect. The opera foregrounds Spain’s participation in the rising. Given that few Spanish forces actually arrived in Scotland to assist in the rising, 1719! is obviously more concerned with the larger implications of the nation’s participation—of its connection to Scotland—than its practical impact.[4] Interest in highlighting this relationship is evident in the opera’s press release when Scottish Opera’s Director of Outreach and Education, Jane Davidson, notes that the Battle of Glen Shiel “is still recalled in the name Sgurr nan Spainteach (The Peak of the Spaniards) in recognition of the Spanish troops who fought there” (“Scottish Opera’s”). While the opera amplifies Scotland’s continental ties with Spain, it distances Scotland from England in the process. True, in 1719!, “England” is only referred to by the Spanish. However, the antagonism of the Hanoverians—seen in proclamations such as “We’ll whack ‘em and crack ‘em till they stop trying / We’ll shoot ‘em and loot ‘em the dead and dying” (9)—clearly magnifies their separation from the Jacobites—who are portrayed as Scottish—and the Spaniards and also pronounces the contrasting unity of the other nations.

Scholars such as Ichijo Atsuko have noted that uses of history in relation to the creation of a separate Scottish Parliament in late-twentieth-century Scotland reveal connections between Scottish “nationalism and European integration” (6). The instrumentalization of history within 1719! arguably demonstrates such connections: in the context of Brexit and renewed appeals for another referendum for Scottish independence, 1719! promotes a uniquely Scottish identity and culture while also foregrounding Scotland’s European associations. In echoing the distinctive national consciousness and unyielding cycle of Scottish resistance imagined by its eighteenth-century analogues, at its most political reading, the opera suggests that a break with the United Kingdom is a necessary, inevitable, and attractive option that would allow Scotland access to its historically-preferred continental ties. While the opera may not necessarily advocate Scotland’s shift away from the United Kingdom and towards the European Union in this manner, it arguably reflects this emerging transition ideologically.


[1] Going forward, “The True Scots Mens Lament for the Loss of the Rights of their Ancient Kingdom” will be referred to as “The True Scots Mens Lament” in this essay.

[2] Arguably, contemporary ballads regarding individual outlaws such as Rob Roy—who was involved in the Jacobite risings of 1689, 1715, and 1719—worked to a similar effect. For example, in “The Supplication and Lamentation of George Fachney, an Officer in Caldwells Regiment of Robbers, To Rob Roy in the Highlands, with Rob Roys Answer” (circa 1722), Roy is portrayed as engaging in the ‘right kind’ of resistance, breaking the law as a wronged party, not wronging others.

[3] After all, as Murray G. H. Pittock has suggested, “Airs…seem to have been used to indicate Jacobite support within a ballad tradition” (6).

[4] The opera references the storms but does not make clear the extent of their impact on the Spanish troops.

Works Cited

1719! Lyrics by Allan Dunn, music by David Munro, Scottish Opera, 2019,

“A New Song, Concerning Two Games at Cards, Playd Betwixt the King of England, King of France, and Queen of Spain; Shewing the True Honour and Honesty of Old England against the Pretender,” circa 1719. British Library – Roxburghe, EBBA 31099. English Broadside Ballad Archive,

Bambery, Chris. A People’s History of Scotland. London: Verso, 2014.

Donaldson, William. The Jacobite Song: Political Myth and National Identity. Aberdeen: Aberdeen UP, 1988.

Harol, Corrinne. “Whig Ballads and the Past Passive Jacobite.” Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 35, no. 4, 2012, pp. 581-595.

“A Hymn, to the Victory in Scotland.” The Roxburghe Ballads: Illustrating the Last Years of the Stuarts, edited by J. Woodfall Ebsworth, vol. 8, Hertford, Ballad Society, 1897, pp. 252-253.

Ichijo, Atsuko. Scottish Nationalism and the Idea of Europe: Concepts of Europe and the Nation. London: Routledge, 2004.

McDowell, Paula. “The Manufacture and Lingua-facture of Ballad-Making”: Broadside Ballads in Long Eighteenth-Century Ballad Discourse.” The Eighteenth Century, vol. 47, no. 2/3, Ballads and Songs in the Eighteenth Century, 2006, pp. 151-178.

McGuirk, Carol. “Jacobite History to National Song: Robert Burns and Carolina Oliphant (Baroness Nairne).” The Eighteenth Century, vol. 47 no. 2/3, Ballads and Songs in the Eighteenth Century, 2006, pp. 253-287.

“New Song to the Tune of Lochaber No More,” circa 1723. National Library of Scotland – Rosebery 37, EBBA 34263. English Broadside Ballad Archive,

Pittock, Murray G. H. Poetry and Jacobite Politics in Eighteenth-Century Britain and Ireland. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994.

“Scottish Opera’s New Primary Schools Show 1719! Commemorates the Jacobite Risings.” Press Release. Scottish Opera, 19 Nov. 2018,

Sinclair-Stevenson, Christopher. Inglorious Rebellion: The Jacobite Risings of 1708, 1715, and 1719. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1971.
Smith, Anthony D. Foreword. Scottish Nationalism and the Idea of Europe: Concepts of Europe and the Nation. By Atsuko Ichijo. London: Routledge, 2004, pp. ix-xi.

“The Supplication and Lamentation of George Fachney, an Officer in Caldwell’s Regiment of Robbers, To Rob Roy in the Highlands, with Rob Roy’s Answer,” circa 1722. Huntington Library – Miscellaneous 180197, EBBA 32426. English Broadside Ballad Archive,

“The True Scots Mens Lament for the Loss of the Rights of their Ancient Kingdom.” Edinburgh: John Reid in Pearson’s-Closs, 1718. National Library of Scotland – Rosebery 117, EBBA 34350. English Broadside Ballad Archive,

Whitelaw, Alex. The Book of Scottish Song. London: Blackie and Son, 1844.

Worton, Jon. The Battle of Glenshiel – the Jacobite Rising in 1719. Warwick: Helion & Company, 2018.

“Prompted by the Violence of her Passion”: Gendered Crime in the 18th Century and Eliza Haywood’s Love in Excess

A View of the South Front of the North Side of the Marshalsea Prison (1812), Unknown Artist after James Lewis, 1751–1820

When Melliora’s father dies in Eliza Haywood’s 1719 novel Love in Excess, she is entrusted into the care of D’elmont.  Despite her sadness for her dying father, Melliora cannot help but fall for the Count the moment that her father turns her over to him.  Haywood describes the complexity of Melliora’s feelings in this moment as follows:  “she had just lost a dear and tender father, whose care was ever watchful for her . . . she had no other relation in the world to apply her self to for comfort . . . [but D’elmont] whom she found it dangerous to make use of, whom she knew it was a crime to love, yet could not help loving” (Haywood 88).  The use of the word “crime” in this moment perfectly structures the tension within the narrative of Love in Excess.  Haywood’s reconceptualization of love as a “crime” treats characters’ actions in pursuit of love as forms of crimes of passion.  Furthermore, her criminality of love challenges gendered constructs of the eighteenth century.  According to the Old Bailey Online, while men were viewed as the stronger sex, they were expected to be more intelligent, courageous, and determined.  Alternatively, women were believed to be controlled by their emotions, leading to expectations of chastity, modesty, and compassion.  Therefore, the expected faults of men were primarily acts of aggression (including violence and selfishness), whereas female faults centered on sins of the body (including lust and shrewishness) (“Gender in the Proceedings”).  Sins of the body are exemplified in Haywood’s Love in Excess as women navigate their criminal affections.  Examining the proceedings of real trials from the eighteenth century in relation to Haywood’s Love in Excess creates a space to address how constructs of gender in both real and imagined narratives determined criminal activity.  Furthermore, this intersection between the real and imagined allows for a look at the ubiquity of widespread patriarchal institutions.  Haywood’s criminal love demonstrates not only the economic and emotional struggles that women were facing but also how the lengths they went to fulfill their needs were met with a gendered response.

The statistics of crimes committed in the eighteenth century show that women stood trial far less than men.  The Old Bailey Online reveals that from the 1690s to the 1740s, women accounted for 40% of defendants.  This number significantly declined over the course of the eighteenth century, until reaching as low as 22% at the start of the nineteenth century (“Gender in the Proceedings”).  In accordance, in examining the archives, I found that of the estimated 48,000 cases that saw trial from 1701 to 1800, about 69% consisted of male defendants, while 31% were female.  Since 2019 marks the 300th anniversary of the publication of Love in Excess, I examined the 433 cases that went to trial in 1719:  154 involved female defendants, whereas 279 involved male defendants (Table 1).  Although the majority of female defendants faced trials centered on killing and theft, their crimes were likely to be focused on their failure to adhere to expectations ascribed to their gender.  These gendered crimes included infanticide, concealing a birth, unlawful abortion, theft, and coining (including keeping a brothel) (“Gender in the Proceedings”).  Additionally, of the 154 females that stood trial in the year 1719, only 86 were found guilty, 10 of whom successfully received a respite for pregnancy (Table 2).

One reason behind female theft could be the economic hardships that women encountered in London.  Specifically, women’s wages were significantly lower than men’s and rarely guaranteed.  Knowing this, it should be no surprise to suggest that women perhaps participated in various acts of theft to make ends meet.  Of the 145 female theft cases in 1719, 15 involved shoplifting.  Chloe Wigston-Smith discusses her examination of the Old Bailey Online proceedings in her book Women, Work and Clothes in the Eighteenth-Century Novel (2013) and notes that many stolen items involved textiles, garments, or accessories.  She further explains how some women used their own clothes to assist in shoplifting (Wigston-Smith 95).  Similarly, I found a case in 1719 of Mary Wilson, who was taken to trial for stealing four pairs of Worsted stockings.  When she was apprehended, authorities found the stockings hidden “up her Coats” (“Mary Wilson”).  Wilson was found guilty and sentenced to transportation.  In addition to clothing, women would use accessories to assist in shoplifting.  Urphane Mackhoule, for example, was found guilty in 1719 for stealing a pair of silver buckles.  She did this by entering a shop and requesting some aniseed to distract the merchant.  When the merchant turned his back, Mackhoule placed the buckles in her basket.  She later confessed and was also sentenced to transportation (“Urphane Mackhoule”).  Although the proceedings do not address specifically why Wilson and Mackhoule were stealing stockings and buckles, it is reasonable to infer that female acts of shoplifting could be rooted in an inability to afford the items they needed or desired due to economic hardships brought on by the gendered wage gap.

In addition to shoplifting, pocket-picking consisted of 11 crimes that women saw trial for in 1719.  In the case of pocket-picking, Wigston-Smith explains that women “often worked together and that their schemes could involve between 2 and 7 women to distract the attention of victims” (Wigston-Smith 96).  In a 1719 case, Mary Clarke was accused of following John Burcher into an alley.  When Burcher was distracted by a “fight” between two women who had amassed a crowd, he claimed that Clarke slipped her hand in his pocket and stole seven shillings.  It is unclear whether Clarke was working with the women or taking advantage of the situation, but she was eventually found not guilty (“Mary Clarke”).  However, as Wigston-Smith notes, accusations of women pocket-picking can be further complicated by the number of cases that also involved prostitution.  She notes that “pick-pockets were often equated with prostitutes, as both professions shared the same working space of the streets” (Wigston-Smith 96).  The connection between prostitution and pocket-picking appeared so often that many judges would assume that men who claimed to be robbed in specific areas of London had actually been visiting a prostitute (96-97).  Lastly, cases involving female pocket-picking could be fabricated when men purposefully wrongly accused women of theft in retaliation of rejected romantic advances.  Some men even planted objects on their female rejectors to get them arrested (98).  The number of fabricated accusations of female theft by men that saw trial further creates a gendered divide.  In this moment the women are on trial twice:  first, for the knowingly incorrect accusation of theft and, second, for being a woman who dared to reject a man.

Aside from various forms of theft and coining, women of the eighteenth century also often worked in the streets of London by singing ballads.  Women flooded the ballad profession to use their voices to make money.  Tim Fulford examines how the increase in the number of poor women can be attributed to the number of deaths of soldiers in Europe, America, the West Indies, and India, as well as the growth of London as a space of promise of commerce that drew these women in from the country (Fulford 313).  Additionally, Branford P. Millar has described these women as often elderly and “tattered,” and Paula McDowell explains that they could sometimes be disabled or blind (Miller 129, McDowell 175).  Ballad singers would sing loudly in the streets, often encouraging passersby to purchase print copies.  Female involvement in ballad-singing not only provided women with some economic support but also a space for women to express their emotional responses to governmental structures through veiled lyrics.  While ballads could contain the news or bawdy jokes, the ones that focused on social and political issues often resulted in arrest.  Ballads were believed to be dangerous because they could stir up nationalist pride or feelings of unrest.  Much of the information that we have of these female ballad-singers comes from records of their time in and out of jails and correction houses (McDowell 156).  Elizabeth Smith, for example, was arrested for selling “The Highland Lasses Wish,” a Jacobite ballad that praised James Francis Edward, the Old Pretender.  A 1719 search of the English Broadside Ballad Archive yields a ballad about the Lady Arabella Stuart called “The True Lovers Knot United,” which also disguises Jacobite sentiment through the story of Arabella’s unsuccessful elopement.  These political ballads were, as McDowell describes, a “genre of ‘the people,’” but they also provided women with a means of money that could lead to legal danger.

While no characters are arrested in Love in Excess, Haywood’s conceptualization of criminal love shapes character behavior as crimes of passion.  Ultimately, “crimes of passion” often refer to violent criminal acts inspired by a sudden strong emotional response.  Although we stereotypically expect that strong response to be anger or hatred, it is possible to consider intense love as fuel for impulsive actions.  Haywood’s reflection of eighteenth-century gender expectations within Love in Excess further examines changes in the construct of gender, as well as how the different genders hold power.

Similar to female ballad-singers, the written word is a powerful tool for expressing emotional unrest in Love in Excess.  The novel opens with a description of Alovysa as “[suffering] her self to be agitated almost to madness between the two extremes of love and indignation” (Haywood 39).  The use of “madness” lends weight to how passionate emotions ultimately consume Alovysa.  Her obsession with D’elmont not only leads to her “rival” Amena’s life-long banishment to a monastery but also a lack of trust in her marriage, emotional suffering, and her untimely death.  Alovysa uses her skills in writing and speaking to act on her passion.  For example, when she realizes that D’elmont is pursuing Amena, Alovysa does not hesitate to write to him anonymously:  “you cannot without a manifest contradiction to its will, and an irreparable injury to your self, make a present of that heart to Amena, when one, of at least an equal beauty, and far superior in every other consideration, would sacrifice all to purchase the glorious trophy” (45).  Her strategic choice of placing D’elmont as a “trophy” flatters him as he realizes that he has more than one admirer.  Furthermore, despite being close friends with Amena, Alovysa does not consider whether her actions will hurt Amena when she writes that she believes herself to be “far superior.”  Tiffany Potter has observed that “Haywood undergoes a process of mastering this language of passion and claiming it for women as a creative, powerful, production value” (Potter 171).  Alovysa’s clever turns of phrase in her anonymous letters allow her to manipulate the situation to secure her ultimate desires.  Her willingness to do what she believes to be necessary in that moment–including sacrificing the wellbeing of her friend–assists in fulfilling her emotional needs.  Potter investigates Alovysa’s cunning use of language to act on her passion through an understanding of knowledge as power.  In the scene between Alovysa and the Baron, she is seeking information that only the Baron can tell her, while he wants sexual consent.  Potter notes that Alovysa’s “agency here comes from the ability she is granted by Haywood to empower herself through playing both sides of her culture’s gendered constructions of language as she uses the language of desire, seduction, and adultery” (171-172). Alovysa’s use of written and spoken language allows her to gain the information and future she desires.  Despite the emotional consequences of her actions, her use of language demonstrates her strength and willingness to act on her love for D’elmont.

Haywood’s discussion of crimes of passion further addresses the gender divide in the treatment of rejection and sins of the body through Melantha and Ciamara.  The two women cannot physically restrain themselves from acting on their lust for D’elmont.  At first Melantha tries to pursue the Count.  However, after overhearing a conversation between the Count and her brother, Melantha becomes uneasy.  She knows of her brother’s feelings for Alovysa, but the new information of the Count’s love for Melliora leads to her frustration with the men’s behavior.  However, Melantha does not become dissuaded by this realization.  Instead, she uses this information to her advantage to trick D’elmont to sleep with her and become pregnant.  Rather than perform her gender as perhaps expected, she decides to take what she desires.  When her crime of seduction is revealed, she is referred to by her brother as “that wicked woman” and as “deceitful” (Haywood 144).  He is further angered by her “scandal” as well as what he sees as the betrayal of the family name, and he threatens to “stab [her] here in this scene of guilt,” an act prevented by D’elmont (144).  Although Melantha is frightened that her brother will follow through on the threat, she argues:  “neither am I guilty of any crime.  I was vext indeed to be made a property of, and changed beds with Melliora for a little innocent revenge; for I always designed to discover my self to the Count time enough to prevent mischief” (145).  Her word choice of “revenge” implies that she has become angered by the way that the men have been treating her.  Melantha takes control of what power she can have through the use of her body.  Yet, while it is perhaps socially accepted that the men pursue women how they please, the gendered response to a woman acting on her desire is a reaction asserting that she is something like a criminal.

In comparison to Melantha, Ciamara’s seduction not only fails but also further exacerbates the difference in gendered sins of the body.  Ciamara tries to act on her lust for D’elmont by disrobing for him, kissing him, and guiding his hands to her body, all to persuade him to be with her (225).  Unfortunately, for Ciamara, D’elmont is not convinced.  However, before rejecting Ciamara, he takes a moment to enjoy her body.  His actions are explained away as follows:  “he was still a man! and, ‘tis not to be thought strange if to the force of such united temptations, nature and modesty a little yielded . . . her behavior having extinguished all his respect, he gave his hands and eyes a full enjoyment of all those charms” (225).  This acceptance of D’elmont’s behavior is a stark difference from earlier in the novel, when he struggled to express the pain of his passion for Melliora.  Multiple instances depict D’elmont as attempting physically to force himself onto Melliora, and these acts drive her to prevent their physical connection by stuffing the lock of her bedroom with torn pieces of her corset.  Yet, in comparison to Ciamara, while it is inappropriate for a woman physically to act on her desires, the novel shows that it is ostensibly fully understandable for a man to do so.

Crime in eighteenth-century England was often understood to be driven by specific traits attributed to men and women.  While men were expected physically to act on their aggression and desires, women responded to threats to their emotional and physical needs.  Female crime in the eighteenth century was thoroughly addressed by popular fiction writers to much acclaim.  Haywood’s criminalization of love makes way for a larger examination of patriarchal institutions.  Her use of the written word as a means to establish control and her discussion of the unequal treatment of rejection and seduction show how gender expectations shaped responses to how individuals adhered or disrupted gender performance.

Works Cited

Fulford, Tim.  “Fallen Ladies and Cruel Mothers:  Ballad Singers and Ballad Heroines in the Eighteenth Century.”  The Eighteenth Century 47.2 (2006):  309-329.

“Gender in the Proceedings.”  Old Bailey Online. Accessed 15 March 2019.

Haywood, Eliza.  Love in Excess.  Ed. David Oakleaf.  Peterborough:  Broadview Press, 2000.

“Mary Clarke.”  Old Bailey Online  Accessed 9 April 2019.

“Mary Wilson.”  Old Bailey Online  Accessed 9 April 2019.

McDowell, Paula.  “‘The Manufacture and Lingua-facture of Ballad-Making’:  Broadside Ballads in Long Eighteenth-Century Ballad Discourse.”  The Eighteenth Century 47.2 (2006):  151-178.

Miller, Branford P.  “Eighteenth-Century Views of the Ballad.”  Western Folklore 9.2 (1950):  124-135.

Potter, Tiffany.  “The Language of Feminised Sexuality:  Gendered Voice in Eliza Haywood’s Love in Excess and Fantomina.”  Women’s Writing 10.1 (2003):  169-186.

Smith, Chloe Wigston.  Women, Work, and Clothes in the Eighteenth-Century Novel.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2013.

“The Lovers Knot United.”  English Broadside Ballad Archive.  Accessed 20 April 2019.

“Urphane Mackhoule.”  Old Bailey Online  Accessed 9 April 2019.