7 The Contrast


After Thomas Rowlandson (1756 – 1827)

The Contrast/Which is Best, 1793

Etching with hand-colouring

Published by S. W. Fores No.3 Piccadilly, London, 1st January 1793

Propaganda campaigns against radicalism were organised in England as news of the September Massacres, the deposition of Louis XVI and the proclamation that France was a Republic made its way across the Channel. One of the most popular associations was created by John Reeves, a lawyer and colonial administrator, who was alarmed by the seditious activity that he believed threatened to undermine the British constitution. In November 1792 he established the Association for Preserving Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in London. Its aim was to counteract the effects of radical literature inspired by events in France. It soon became the largest political organisation in the country, with branches throughout England. Similar societies were founded and had an immediate impact in suppressing radicalism.

Reeves’ London organisation produced and distributed many of the best political pamphlets at this time. Their agenda was to contrast the political anarchy in France with tranquil British life. This print The Contrast/Which is Best was copied from a previous design by caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson in 1792 and was published on behalf of Reeves’ association. Here, the notion of liberty is symbolized by two contrasting female figures. A serene Britannia is represented on the left, holding the scales of justice, a staff with the red Phrygian cap of liberty (significantly transferred from France to England), and the Magna Carta while guarded by the British lion. On the right, the French figure of Liberty is a savage Medusa, surrounded by death and destruction. This design was one of the most widely distributed by John Reeves’ association. As the price line suggests it could be bought by the hundred at one guinea plain and two guineas coloured and was most often dispatched with specific orders to place it in pubs and barber’s shops.

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