Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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First Pub. Date
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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CARICATURE. Political caricature, and this is the only kind we refer to, is only one form of the liberty of the press. It is the weapon of the weak, the book of people who have not yet learned to read. It was the newspaper of the rustic, before newspapers proper came into existence. An event occurs. The caricaturist seizes it, and with the point of his pencil nails it to the pillory. The impression produced is immediate. The people see the point. Indifference here is out of the question. The idea is caught at a glance, and at the same time people declare for or against the artist. Better than the newspaper article or the book, caricature gives body to ideas and sets up a target for the shots of rancor. The history of political caricature is intimately connected with that of nations. While the aristocracy and the middle class write books or edit newspapers, the engraver's art tells the story of popular joy and sorrow, hope and wrath. The people paint themselves as they are, and represent their enemies as they appear to them. They call things by their right names. In 1496, long before Luther, they held up papal Rome to execration. Before the league they drew Henry III., the hermaphrodite, on the hurdle. Richelieu made every one tremble before him; yet he feared the shafts of caricature, which did not respect even the terrible majesty of Louis XIV. Caricature helped the French revolution by familiarizing the people with the idea of revolt. It showed foresight on the eve of the 18th Brumaire, by representing the first consul thimblerigging the republic under the pyramids as goblets. Vanquished in 1815, it avenged itself by ridiculing the victors.


—We do not, however, pretend to say that caricature has been always in the right. In the first place it has been frequently malicious, and consequently given to exaggeration. And then the desire to provoke laughter and be witty has more than once blinded the artist. But in these cases the public was not with it; or, if they applauded its wit for a time, they did not approve its malice. Social and political caricature was, for a long time, only a representation of the personages whom it wished to expose to public ridicule. Words surrounded by a pencil line, and issuing from the mouth of one of the actors in the scene, expressed in a comic way the thought of the artist. It was seldom that caricature, faithful to its etymological significations, exaggerated personal defects or attitudes, or facial expression. The point was altogether in the written words, the apparel, or the peculiarities of the person represented; but with William Hogarth, Goya and Callot, caricature attained its highest degree of development. It became less ingenuous, but wittier. To allegory, the general form of caricature, succeeded the observation, and bringing out into relief of certain contours or lines. This was the artistic period of caricature.


—Caricature attained great importance under Louis XVI. and during the French revolution. It fell into disuse in France before public spirit disappeared. The hero of a hundred battles could not allow his acts to be commented on by the pencil. What he exacted from the press was disciplined admiration. During his reign caricature took refuge in England, and contributed, not a little, by the daily irritation it kept up, to the maintenance of that hatred which was one day to be his ruin.


—The restoration was not much more liberal in this respect, and it took the revolution of 1830 to restore caricature to its rights. The establishment of daily papers devoted to caricature dates from this period. Struck down in France at the same time as the press by the laws of September, 1835, it rose again in 1848, only to fall once more under the decree of Feb. 17, 1852. Caricature in that country today, subject to a preliminary authorization, attacks the foibles or the vices of citizens. In France it was for a long time forbidden to touch on political subjects, unless the country was at war, in which case the artist was allowed to discover and bring into relief the motes in the eye of the enemy, on condition, however, of not perceiving the beam in the eye of the nation.


—The caricaturist's art, in our own time, is so frequently employed, that no large city is without one or more satirical illustrated papers. We need only mention the "Uomo di Pietra" of Milan, the Paris "Charivari," "Il Fischietto" of Turin, the Berlin "Kladderadatsch," and the London "Punch."


—Caricature plays in England a part similar to that played by the chansons in France and the pasquino at Rome; but with this difference in England's favor, that the pasquinades were purposely obscure, the chansons or popular songs were liable to the severest penalties, while in England the only limit to the right of saying anything is the right to contradict it. Has the government reason to regret the liberty it allows its citizens? We may form an opinion from one fact. In England caricature is pitiless to the most important personages in the state, but the moment it represents government personified, that is, the king, it reproduces his features faithfully; and the correctness of the picture of the king, showing the artist's respect for the principle of authority itself, renders only more scathing the epigram intended for the public functionary.


—In proportion as ideas of liberty generate ideas of dignity, caricature will certainly diminish in importance. The power of freely expressing one's thoughts will take away all desire to express them with malice. When a man has the right to expound great and immortal truths, he does not waste his time in fighting trifles. For example, in 1858 a mass of fischietti appeared all over Italy who with pencil and pen ridiculed and caricatured the Austrians and the principal feudatories of Vienna. Since then the fischietti have become almost mute and are content with preaching liberty and defending national unity.


—Caricature when it strikes home, is as good as the best newspaper article, and whether the precursor or interpreter of popular dissatisfaction, it sometimes gives salutary warning. The following was the design of a satirical drawing called "The Assembly of Notables," which appeared in 1787. Calonne, the minister, dressed as a court cook, and armed with a large knife, harangues a whole army of poultry, representing the notables. The legend runs thus. Calonne: "Dear people, whom I govern, I have gathered you together to know with what sauce you would like to be eaten." The Notables: "But we do not wish to be eaten at all." Calonne, severely, "That is no answer to my question."


—This caricature is the sad and faithful representation of human history. It is only the sauce that changes. When the notables persist and will not keep to the point, we have what is called revolution.


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