Political satire is a delicate thing.
It’s a fine line to tread ‘twixt making a point about an unjust occurrence – war, taxation, poverty, education, et. al. – without angering the powers that be to the point of retribution. Dr. John Arbuthnot, compatriot of the eloquent satirists Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope, created a character in 1712 meant to both represent the frustrated common sense of the average Englishman and skewer the crown and parliamentary policies under which he existed. He was not the fervor-inspiring figure of America’s Uncle Sam or Liberty Leading the People in France. Rather, this entirely English character entered into scrapes and fell victim to outside conditions that prevented him from enjoying his beer and his thoroughly middle class existence. He is earnest virtue until felled by circumstantial vice.
In essence, we are all John Bull.
John Bull (noun)
Englishman who exemplifies the coarse, burly form and bluff nature of the national character, 1772, from name of a character representing the English nation in Arbuthnot’s satirical “History of John Bull” (1712). A blunder.
And before you ask … why, yes, James Gillray did document John Bull. His caricatures are quite a fun way to brush up on your late 18th century geo-political history. So without further ado, behold the first ten John Bull satires.
- Slang term definitions taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue and Online Etymological Dictionary.
- Read the fascinating and concise biography of John Bull at The British Empire.
- Georgian John Bull is by far his best iteration. History Today tells all.
- To learn all you every wanted to know about John Bull, have a gander at The Political History of John Bull; or, The True Englishman, Neither a Republican nor an Aristocrat.
- For John Bull 1.0 by Dr. John Arbuthnot himself, Gutenberg has what you need.
- Need to see the rest of the John Bull series? Head on over to the National Portrait Gallery Archives.