Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A 19th Century Emily Post On Laughing Gas

by Stephen J. Gertz

When a book purporting to be a guide to proper etiquette presents  with a titlepage depicting a gentleman hogging all the chairs in the room as he tips backward on one, his feet upon another, hat and gloves planted on yet one more, his right arm casually draped over his chair's arm, cigarette dangling from his lips as he casually reads a volume that is clearly not the Bible (a book traditionally requiring both hands to read), we know that we are dealing with not just any ol' book of etiquette.

Should you get into a Row leave your friend to fight it out,
being cursed low to be seen fighting in the Street.

Here we are confronted by an author, vintage early nineteenth century but influenced by the Punk Movement of the twentieth century, "a shadowy figure" who has flipped the bird to the Queen's propriety. Call it The Anarchist's Guide To Manners; or, Social Grace Gets the Shaft, Gentility Takes a Dive, and the Class System Drowns.

Servants should never condescend to notice
tradespeoples' Wretches, as it shows a want of dignity.

An anonymously written and illustrated satire in panorama format with hand-colored engraved title-page, and twenty-three hand colored and captioned engraved plates without imprint, the only clue to its authorship is the signing, "HH," found on some of the plates.

There are some Old People who affect a dislike for
Tobacco Smoke when at Meals. Stuff!
You may as well object to the smell of the Meat!

Who is "HH," this beau-jester undermining interpersonal relations, Western Civilization and all it stands for?  Hans Holbein? Humbert Humbert? Hubert Humphrey?

Publicans should never forget to taste their Customers
Liquor first - it looks friendly and condescending.

The Shadow knows:

Wha a Goth he must have been who call'd fashion a
foolish thing. How foolish a Man wold look out of it!!

"Henry Heath (fl. 1822–1842), caricaturist, is a shadowy figure. Because of a similarity in style between William and Henry Heath and their collaboration on three prints, it has been suggested that they were related, even as brothers (George, Catalogue, 9.liv). Henry Heath etched theatrical portraits from 1822 and both social and political caricatures from 1824, his work being published by Fores and Gans. In 1831 he started to imitate the political caricatures of HB, changing from etching to lithography and adopting the monogram HH. About this time various sets of his comic vignettes in the manner of George Cruikshank were issued and were collected in 1840 under the title of The Caricaturist's Sketch Book; in the 1830s he also drew cockney sportsmen, following the example of Robert Seymour. One cartoon by him was published in Punch in 1842. In the same year he drew some amusing caricatures of Queen Victoria's visit to Scotland, after which, according to M. H. Spielmann (The History of Punch, 1895, 452), he emigrated to Australia. Dorothy George called him ‘a competent and versatile but very imitative caricaturist’ (George, Catalogue, 10.xliv)" (Oxford Online DNB).

Grimacing behind a visitor is esteemed
excessively well-bred in young Ladies

In its irreverent attitude and inversion of acceptable behavior, Heath's The  Book of Etiquette is on a par with Pierre Loüys Manuel de civilité pour les petites filles à l'usage des maisons d'éducation, a book of etiquette for young girls to assist in reaching their potential on the expressway to erotic fulfillment and eternal damnation.

Perhaps this book of demented etiquette was, indeed, written by Humbert Humbert before he met You-Know-Who.

HEATH, Henry. The Book of Etiquette. London: T. McLean, [ca. 1830].

First edition. Octavo (6 7/8 x 3 7/8 in; 175 x 98 mm). Hand-colored engraved title-page, and twenty-three hand colored and captioned engraved plates, mounted on stubs, without imprint as issued but some carry the initials "HH."

Abbey, Life in England, 513.

Images coutrtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

1 comment:

  1. Creative approach. Very unusual! I like comics and cartoons.


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