8 French Happiness, English Misery

Isaac Cruikshank (1756 – 1811)

French Happiness, English Misery , 1793

Etching with hand-colouring

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

In this English caricature, Cruikshank contrasts the Frenchman’s savage situation during the Revolution to the peaceful and plentiful circumstances of the Englishman. On the left, four famished Frenchmen, dressed in tattered clothing, are tugging at a single frog. Images of death and violence surround them, in particular the crucifix that now serves to hold a rope and a dagger, while through the window one can make out a man hanging by his neck and a head at the end of a pike. On the ground a ‘Tree of Liberty’, a symbol often used in revolutionary festivals, is gnawed at by mice. A cat dying of hunger reaches for a mouse but is too weak to catch it, while a bird dies in its cage. Cruikshank contrasts this scene with the four healthy Englishmen to the right. Even the animals on the ground are well fed and plump, as the men at the table devour legs of ham or beef. Through the window, the prosperous English countryside, lush with vegetation, can be seen.

The method of dividing a print into two sections and contrasting the oppressed, starving Frenchman to John Bull or Jack Roast Beef was popular during this period. It was important to the governing classes that the people of England see how Revolution could turn the usually civilized population into savages. The idea for, and two-part structure of, this particular print may have come from a 1792 caricature by James Gillray where contradictions between the two countries were depicted as just as distinct as they are in French Happiness, English Misery.

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