I am in the midst of an essay crisis at the moment, trying to get my final paper finished before I embark on finishing the research for my dissertation and the task of writing it up. It is an odd feeling: stressing about getting the essay finished on time, while at the same time knowing that once I hand it in the end of my Masters is nearly here.
In the meantime here is a snippet from a previous paper I did for my MA on graphic satire during the civil wars. It’s about Edward Finch, a Laudian clergyman from the mid-seventeenth century. From 1630 he was vicar of Christ Church in Newgate in London.
In 1641 some of Finch’s parishioners rebelled and petitioned Parliament for his removal. They complained about his “superstitious affection to the Surplice and other Popish practices”, and accused him of extorting money from his flock. They also charged him with hanging around with “divers women suspected of incontinency”. Like many such petitions of the time, it ended up being printed as a quarto pamphlet: The petition and articles or severall charge exhibited in Parliament against Edward Finch vicar of Christs Church in London, and brother to Sir Iohn Finch, late Lord Keeper (London, 1641). What was different about this particular pamphlet was that it had an illustration of one of the accusations: a trip to a particularly notorious tavern.
The wooduct shows a stumbling Finch in canonical dress, addressing a coachman who, it is revealed in the text, had taken him to the Chequers Inn to get drunk. The coachman is shouting “away for Hamersmith”.
The illustration seems to have particularly stung Finch, so much so that he wrote a pamphlet in response. In it he attacked the “Frontispeece of his abominably absurde Pamphlet”. However, the detail of the woodcut was such that he was unable to deny the accusation completely. Instead, he only managed to tinker with the details: protesting that one of his companions on his trip to the inn had been his sister, and that they had been to the Goat Inn rather than the Chequers.
What was it about the cartoon that particularly irritated Finch? In her seminal book on the impact of the printing press, Elizabeth Eisenstein focused particularly on what she called the “fixity” that printed words could bring to ideas and concept. If anything, woodcuts would have been even more “fixed” than type. Unlike spoken or written descriptions of an event, images provide a statement of meaning that can be exactly repeated for as long as the printing surface works effectively. Viewers can still interpret them, but arguably with less room for manoeuvre. This element of ‘fixity’ seems to have been important in determining contemporary responses to graphic satire. For Finch, it meant that he was less able to refute the accusations levelled at him. Early modernists are now very attuned to the history of readers and reading as part of the wider history of printed, but there is probably still much more to learn about the viewers and viewing of printed images.
1. The petition and articles or severall charge exhibited in Parliament against Edward Finch vicar of Christs Church in London, and brother to Sir Iohn Finch, late Lord Keeper (London, 1641), B.L., T.T., E.166.
2. Edward Finch, An answer to the articles preferd against Edward Finch, vicar of Christ church by some of the parishioners of the same (London, 1641), Wing / 256:E.175.
3. Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-modern Europe (Cambridge, 1980).