by Stephen J. Gertz
Despite their wide popularity and broad distribution, and their importance in the history of British caricature, the color-plate books and albums of Mary Darly are now quite rare.
Who was Mary Darly?
"Although most well-known cartoonists have been men, one of the most influential early figures in the field was a woman, Mary Darly. Though often overlooked in histories of the subject, women have played a significant part in the development of cartoons and caricature in Britain from its beginnings in the days of Hogarth almost 300 years ago right up to the present… However, the mother of them all, perhaps, was the eighteenth-century artist, engraver, writer, printseller, publisher and teacher, Mary Darly (fl.1756-79), who also wrote, illustrated and published the first ever manual on how to draw caricatures" (Bryant, The Mother of Pictorial Satire).
Her husband, Matthew, had established a print publishing and retaiing shop in 1756. The two immediately published a wealth of caricatures. What remains significant about this burst of activity is that it was the first time that caricature, which exaggerated facial features to comic effect, was joined to political satire.
"During the early 1770s, the rage for caricatures in London was fueled by the activities of the print publishers, Matthew and Mary Darly, who flooded the market with their wry visual commentaries on social life. Among their productions were dozens of prints representing a group of men labeled by contemporaries as 'macaronis,' allegedly because of their affectation of foreign tastes and fashions. The macaronis were an ephemeral phenomenon, as well as an extension of the fops and beaus of the earlier part of the century. They were called, among other epithets, 'noxious vermin,' 'that doubtful gender,' and 'amphibious creatures,' and were compared variously to monsters, devils, reptiles, women, monkeys, asses, and butterflies.
“Their concern for elaborate clothing, including tight trousers, large wigs, short coats, and small hats made them the ridicule of their generation, who focused on their gender ambiguity and the dangers of their conformity to foreign and effeminate fashion. A contemporary pamphlet, The Vauxhall Affray, sums up this view: 'But Macaronies are a sex Which do philosophers perplex; Tho' all the priests of Venus's rites Agree they are Hermaphrodites. This gender ambiguity is the aspect of the representational life...' (West, The Darly Macaroni Prints and the Politics of "Private Man." Eighteenth-Century Life 25.2  pp.170-182).
"…the marks that had been codified into the macaroni type [were]: fine sprigged fabric, tight clothes, oversized sword, tasseled walking stick, delicate shoes, and, most recognizably, an enormous wig. This wig, combining a tall front with a fat queue or "club" of hair behind, was the feature that epitomized the macaroni's extravagant artifice during London's macaroni craze of the early 1770s. Named for the pasta dish that rich young Grand Tourists brought back from their sojourns in Rome, the macaroni was known in the 1760s as an elite figure marked by the cultivation of European travel. But as The Macaroni and Theatrical Magazine explained in its inaugural issue in 1772, 'the word Macaroni then changed its meaning to that of a person who exceeded the ordinary bounds of fashion; and is now justly used as a term of reproach to all ranks of people, indifferently, who fall into this absurdity.' Macaroni fashion was contagious, and as it spread beyond its original cadre into the rising..." (Rauser, Hair, Authenticity, and the Self-Made Macaroni. Eighteenth-Century Studies 38.1  pp. 101-117).
"In 1762 [Mary Darly] assumed responsibility for this aspect of their business...She described herself as ‘Fun Merchant, at the Acorn in Ryder's Court, Fleet Street’ (Clayton, 215)...When, in early 1762, a new shop at the Acorn in Ryder's Court near Leicester Fields began to advertise caricatures, it was Mary Darly who was named as publisher. Her principal targets were the dowager princess of Wales, her alleged paramour the earl of Bute, and his allegedly locust-like Scottish friends and relations, of whom the Darlys promised prints ‘as fast as their Needles will move, and Aqua fortis Bite’ (Public Advertiser, 28 Sept 1762).
“To this end Mary welcomed contributions from the general public: ‘Gentlemen and Ladies may have any Sketch or Fancy of their own, engraved, etched &c. with the utmost Despatch and Secrecy’ (ibid.). That she herself was the etcher of these designs was established by her offer to ‘have them either Engrav'd, etched, or Dry-Needled, by their humble Servant’ (ibid.). In October she published the first part of Principles of Caricatura (1762) which according to the title-page provided guidance in drawing caricatures and which reinforced her offer to give exposure in the capital to the ideas of provincial amateurs: ‘any carrick will be etched and published that the Authoress shall be favoured with, Post paid’...Mary Darly fostered enthusiasm for graphic satire, cultivated a polite audience, and increased sensitivity to caricature as an artistic convention.
"In the early 1770s...the Darlys relinquished political satire and instead published satires of fashion, manners, and well-known individuals. Inviting sketches and ideas, they warned that ‘illiberal and indelicate Hints, such as one marked A. Z. [were] not admissible’ and that ‘low or political Subjects will not be noticed’ (Public Advertiser, 15 and 22 Oct 1) Contributions were received from a variety of amateurs, including the talented William Henry Bunbury, Edward Topham, and Richard St George Mansergh. Prints mocking affected macaronis and extremes of dress and coiffure were characteristic. In 1773 they held an exhibition of 233 original drawings for prints. Collected sets were offered from 1772 with a portrait of Matthew Darly dated 1771 as frontispiece (BM 4632). (Timothy Clayton, Matthew Darly. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004).
I’m writing as I ride a pony into town, a feather in my hat. Suddenly, I have an urge for pasta. Why? Where is Mario Batali when you need him?
The Macaroni character plays a role in the American Revolution. "Singing a song in Revolutionary America was not necessarily an innocent act...One of these songs [Yankee Doodle], which told the story of a poorly dressed Yankee simpleton, or 'doodle,' was so popular with British troops that they played it as they marched to battle on the first day of the Revolutionary War. The rebels quickly claimed the song as their own, though, and created dozens of new verses that mocked the British" (Yankee Doodle - Lyrical Legacy at the Library of Congress).
"Why did yankee doodle stick a feather in his hat and call it macaroni? Back in Pre-Revolutionary America when the song 'Yankee Doodle' was first popular, the singer was not referring to the pasta 'macaroni' in the line that reads 'stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni.' 'Macaroni' was a fancy ('dandy') style of Italian dress widely imitated in England at the time. So by just sticking a feather in his cap and calling himself a 'Macaroni' (a 'dandy'), Yankee Doodle was proudly proclaiming himself to be a country bumpkin, because that was how the English regarded most colonials at that time" (United States National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences).
Well, there you have it. Is it too much of a stretch to wonder if the culture wars in America began when colonial hayseeds internalized their status as an elite class of Revolutionary War citizens to proudly distain intellectualism and urbanity?
I don’t know. But my parrot has just dropped a flight feather into my bowl of penne bolognese, which I shall now proudly place upside down upon my head as a pasta-hat in tribute to the Yankee-yokels who threw the Brits’ scorn back at them with wit. I am, as ever, the soul of patriotic dignity.
American humor: It’s straight line from Yankee-Doodle to Hee-Haw, despite the detour through the Borscht Belt.
Images from 24 Caricatures by Several Ladies, Gentlemen, Artists, &c. and volume ll of Caricatures, Macaronies & Characters by Sundry Ladies, Gentle.n, Artists, &c. [London]: M Darly, No. 39 Strand, 1771-1772, and courtesy of David Brass.