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Historical and Descriptive Account
of the Caricatures of James Gillray


Comprising a Political and Humorous History of
the Latter Part of the Reign of George the Third


by Thomas Wright and R. H. Evans
London: Henry G. Bohn, 1851


Between 1845 and 1851, Henry Bohn published editions of Gillray's works from Gillray's original plates. Over 600 numbered plates were printed back-to-back in two giant atlas folio volumes. The main volume included most of the works. The second, thinner volume was composed of 45 works considered too outrageous to include in the main volume.

A third companion volume, written by Thomas Wright and R.H. Evans, was published to identify the individuals and describe the social and political situations. It became one of the definitive reference sources on Gillray's work.


Historical and Descriptive Account
of the Caricatures of James Gillray

by Thomas Wright
1851 and 1968 editions

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Wright became a major authority on the history of caricature in England and other countries.

The Athenaeum Index of Reviews and Reviewers: 1830-1870 provides a list of other works by Thomas Wright.


Historical and Descriptive Account of the
Caricatures of James Gillray

Preface by Henry G. Bohn

The history of Gillray's Caricatures, affords a remarkable instance of the vicissitudes of literary property. The Engravings to which the present volume forms a descriptive accompaniment, belonged, for the most part, to the late Mrs. Humphrey, the well-known publisher of Caricatures in St. James's Street. For many years they produced her a considerable income, and were accordingly valued at a large sum-several thousand pounds. When the trade in them began somewhat to decline, Mrs. Humphrey had occasion to raise money, and obtained a loan of upwards of a thousand pounds upon a deposit of the coppers. After vainly endeavouring for some years to sell these for sufficient to cover principal and interest, with a residue to herself; she put them up to auction, but bought them in for want of a sufficient bidding. Subsequently, she offered them, with consent of the lien-holder, to the present Publisher for eight hundred pounds, and actually refused five hundred. After the lapse of about three years she would have accepted the five hundred, or even less, but the time having then past for expensive publications as a judicious investment, the Publisher declined any further negociation, and the coppers remained in statu quo till the day of her death. The executors, probably not aware of what had passed, and unable to meet with a purchaser at the value of engravings, sold them for old copper, that is, for about as many shillings as Mrs. Humphrey had once refused pounds. By mere accident the Publisher heard of this transaction just in time to rescue them from the melting pot, and the public in consequence are now presented, for a few guineas, with a volume, which, under ordinary circumstances, would have cost four or five times as much.

Upon obtaining possession of these coppers, the Publisher made diligent search for those which he found to be missing, and discovered a considerable number in different places, but principally with Mr. Fores of Piccadilly. Among those were those capital and highly finished compositions, " The National Debt," "Ancient Music," "Monstrous Craws," "March to the Bank," "Wife and no Wife," "The Morning after Marriage," " Hopes of the Party," &c. After collecting together whatever plates he could meet with, the Publisher proceeded to arrange them in two divisions — the one Political, the other Humorous — each according to the date of publication. He then wrote out their respective titles, and identified the characters as far as his own knowledge and the information he could gain permitted, and with the MS. thus far prepared, sought an editor.

Mr. Wright, who had just then published his "History of the House of Hanover, illustrated by Caricatures," kindly undertook the task, and is responsible for the embryo of most of the articles. His numerous avocations however rendering it impossible for him to carry out the labour of investigation to its full extent, Mr. R. H. Evans, long known as a bibliopole of high attainments, as well as for his energetic advocacy of political liberty and familiar knowledge of all that concerns the history of the Whig party, consented to lend his valuable aid. To this gentleman we are accordingly indebted for some very interesting articles, especially those relating to Fox, Sheridan, Lord Holland, the Duke of Bedford, Duke of Norfolk, Grattan, Tierney, &c. &c. Besides these, he has very successfully elucidated the plates relating to Boydell, the Ireland forgeries, the Gunnings, Lord Petre's dinner, &c. Among his more important contributions, the following deserve particular mention: Nos. 6, 96, 139, 154, 161, 164, 173, 174, 182, 195, 198, 199, 201, 202, 207, 214, 245, 253, 256, 259, 269, 293, 303, 305, 319, 329, 331, 335, 343, 349, 351, 352, 377, 378, 380, 382, 385, 394, 441.

Independent of the labours of his editors, the Publisher has taken every opportunity of consulting those who were likely to be versed in the political and social history of the period, or were collectors of Gillray's engravings; and he has to thank his friend Mr. Wm. Smith the well known connoisseur of etchings, Mr. Haviland Burke, and Mr. Hawkins of the British Museum, all enthusiastic admirers and collectors of Gillray's Works, for several valuable communications.


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