Pick of the week
The subject of one of the most expensive lots in the Bloomsbury sale, which was largely drawn from two private collections, was not the Prince and his amours, but the political affairs of his father and William Pitt’s government. Although they were catalogued as ‘13 Broadsides’, I am not sure that is quite accurate. They were a set of mock advertisements for plays and entertainments, including Guilielmo Pittachio, Pittpatches Requisition!, Pop-gun Plot, or Assassination of the King, The Exorcising Spirit, George’s Head in a Basket, Grand Exhibition at Wimbledon!!! and An Entire Change of Performances?. These were potentially incendiary squibs put out in 1794 by radical supporters of the French Revolution.
The group has been studied by Dr John Barrell, the authority on 18thcentury literature, who notes that, like the Revolution in France, this movement was led by an elite rather than the mob—‘residual and reluctant deference is one of the things that distinguish, I think, the movement of the 1790s from the Chartists of forty and fifty years later. In this context especially, the mock playbills make sense of the question-mark in the title of An entire Change of Performances?, the only advertisement which represents the swinish multitude as actors as well as audience in the imagined revolution. We can read that query as pointing to a continuing dilemma in the popular radical movement about how far it could use an aristocratic parliamentary Opposition which it admired but did not trust, which sought to use it but did not trust it’. Unillustrated and stimated only to £150, the interest of this lot took the price to £2,914.