A bit of a pasting
Spotted the poster above pasted onto a wall on the north side of the Millennium Bridge, on the approach to Tate Modern. The URL in the corner is www.neoexternalism.co.uk – but it takes you to a defunct website. A Whois check on the URL doesn’t reveal much, either.
Still, seeing it reminded me that pasting satirical messages onto London’s walls is nothing new, so I thought it would be a good excuse for a post. For comparison, here is one of the Voyeur Card’s famous early modern counterparts: a satirical broadsheet ballad that would probably also have been glued onto walls.
© The Trustees of the British Museum
The World Is Ruled & Governed By Opinion was published in 1641 by Thomas Banks (although subsequent editions did not feature his name). The text is by Henry Peacham, a writer and illustrator who in the late 1630s and 1640s published a number of written works. There is some suggestion that he was down on his luck and attempting to make money by doing so. At this period Peacham collaborated with Wenceslaus Hollar, who is the artist behind the ballad’s illustration. This is one of a number of works they collaborated on at this period. The dedication is to Sir Francis Prujean, a noted physician.
In the illustration you can see Opinion (the blindfolded woman), crowned with the Tower of Babel. She has a globe on her lap, a chameleon on her left arm and a staff in her right hand. In the tree are various pamphlets and broadside ballads. On the left is a jester-like man watering the tree. On the right is the aristocratic cavalier labelled “Viator” or traveller, who is the person Opinion is debating with in the ballad’s text.
The ballad and its illustration are a good example of of views held in the 1640s about the dangers of print, news and opinion – Opinion is an inversion of Justice, watered by a fool, producing nothing but confusion and a world turned upside down. This is ironic, given that the pamphlet’s publisher, Thomas Banks, was a key producer of cheap ballads, pamphlets and newsbooks during the 1640s. Paradoxically, the ballad’s very medium cuts across its message.
Where it gets really interesting are the titles it’s possible to make out of the books hanging from the tree. These are:
- “[John] Taylor’s Reply”
- “The Ironmonger’s Answer”
- “Mercuries Message”
- “News from Elyzium”
- “Hellish Parliament”
- “A Swarme of Sectaries”
- “Canterburies Tooles” (not Troubles as the British Museum website has it)
- “Brownists Conventicle”
- “Taylors Physicke”
- “Lambeth Faire”
Of these, Taylor’s Reply, A Swarme of Sectaries, Taylors Physicke, and The Ironmonger’s Answer all relate to the pamphlet war between John Taylor and Henry Walker.
Mercuries Message was a ballad critical of Laud. Newes from Elizium was a satirical piece using the same woodcut of Laud as Mercuries Message. The Hellish Parliament was another satirical pamphlet by Taylor. Canterburies Tooles is a pamphlet purporting to be by Prynne which reused the same woodcut. Brownists Conventicle was yet another Taylor satire. Lambeth Faire was another satirical ballad hostile to Laud.
I have a hunch – and it is no more than that at this stage – that the listed works may all have been published by Thomas Banks. Certainly Taylor had close professional connections with Banks, who printed a number of his satires. And much of Banks’s output at this time consisted of cheap satirical pamphlets and ballads. To add another layer of paradox, it may be that as well as a critical commentary on the burgeoning public sphere in 1641, The World Is Ruled & Governed By Opinion is also an advert for the very cheap print the ballad criticises.
What is also potentially fascinating for me is that works from both sides of the pamphlet war between John Taylor and Henry Walker are mentioned – not just Taylor’s but also Walker’s. Having blogged about this previously, and hypothesised that the two may have been closer than is supposed, and linked by their mutual associations with Banks and other printers, it is intriguing to wonder whether Banks actually printed all the pamphlets in the dispute. At any rate it’s something I’ll be following up.
Incidentally the ballad also inspired the title of Dagmar Freist’s excellent study of politics and communication in mid-seventeenth century London, which is now available in limited preview on Google Books, and which I would recommend if you want to find out more about print and other forms of communication in 1630s and 1640s London.