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Peer Reviewed

A Draft List of Published book and periodical contributions by Robert Seymour

Brian Maidment, University of Salford

Serial works 1 – New Readings of Old Authors

[21] 1830-1833(?) New Readings of Old Authors [lithographs produced as a monthly serial, but reprinted in 4 volumes in 1841-1842 by Tilt and Bogue.] [21 i – xvi].
[21 i] Front Cover
[21 i] New Readings of Old Authors
Front Cover, Issues 1-2
The complete New Readings comprise 26 monthly part issues, each part made up of ten or sometimes eleven small octavo lithographed images protected by tissue guards and sewn into decorative printed paper covers. Each issue also contained a title page, and some issues also contained advertisements both for forthcoming issues of New Readings, extracts from press reviews, and, later, advertisements for various of Charles Tilt’s other publications including caricature collections by George Cruikshank and Henry Heath. The front cover image was twice altered. The original publication had, for the first two issues, a classical stage set with columns and drapes. At the top of the page is an image of Shakespeare overlaid with a comic mask, suggesting both deference to the classics and a satirical take on them. Issues 3-19 use a different image, signed by Seymour, which shows Shakespeare chewing a quill pen and frowning over a book while being overlooked from the top of the page by a jester. [21 i] [21 ii] [21 iii]. This cover was replaced for issues 20 to 26 by a more classically structured, simpler title page that seems to have signalled the end of the association between Wilson and Tilt, with Tilt becoming the sole publisher. The back cover image was similarly changed after issue 2. None of these changes appear in the 1841-42 volume reprints which use the covers introduced in issue 3 for the entire publication. Each issue cost 1s 6d.
The images are normally uncoloured, but the Yale Centre for British Art in New Haven holds a coloured copy. The publisher of the first issue was E.Wilson, but the second issue (Othello) is jointly published by Wilson and Charles Tilt. E.Wilson was presumably the firm better known as Effingham Wilson which specialised in progressive and radical literature. The publication of the work passed solely to Tilt at issue 20. The lithographic printer throughout was G.E.Madeley of Wellington Street, Strand. The issues are undated, but seem to belong to 1830-1833. The series was reprinted in 4 volumes in 1841-1842 by Tilt and Bogue and was still being advertised by Tilt in the 1852 Comic Almanack, which seems to suggest some level of continuing popularity. Complete copies of the work, however, seem now to be scarce, and are held only by a few libraries. In addition to a bound coloured copy, the Yale Centre for British art holds an uncoloured copy in the original parts. New Readings of Old Authors is Seymour’s sustained tribute to the visual/verbal pun as a central comic idea in Regency Britain. In such puns an ingenious graphic image subverts the conventional meaning of frequently banal words and phrases into often surreal or absurd visual equivalents, thus undermining the assumed stability of language and its ability to express unequivocal shared meanings. As the ‘Address’ that appears in the first issue puts it: ‘“The New Readings of Old Authors” are graphic illustrations of select and familiar quotations from their works, defined in their natural, apposite, and unsophisticated sense. It is, certainly, possible that the Artist, in his anxiety after fidelity, may occasionally have been betrayed into trifling misconceptions; and that his ideas may differ, in some degree, from those of many significant Critics, but, in extenuations of such occurrence, he has to plead, that greater men, with superior pretensions and paramount faculties, have been equally importunate.’ It is such ‘trifling misconceptions’ that give the work its comic energy.
To give some sense of the nature of this work, a full single issue, ‘Pericles’, is reproduced showing the title page and the 10 plates that form the monthly issue. [21 v-xiv]. While the images offer a knowing and often quite witty re-cycling of original Shakespearean phrases with characteristic Regency delight in the humorous dislocations caused by the visual/verbal punning involved, it is the account of urban life that seems to me most interesting here. Most of the images are set indoors, but show scenes that take place in public or semi-public spaces -- in two cases in tailors’ workshops [21v] and [21 xiv], and in other instances in a tailor’s shop [21 vi], a financial office [21 viii], a cigar divan [21 viii], an omnibus [21 x], and a theatre [21xiv] . One image occurs in a domestic interior [21 vii]. Only a single image reflects Seymour’s speciality, a ‘sporting’ image in which three would-be sportsmen have ventured to ignore a ‘trespassers beware’ sign, and have been attacked by a burly water bailiff. [21 xi] There is also a solitary street scene, in which two well upholstered clergymen are visiting London and proceeding up Regent Street. One takes in the sights through a quizzing glass, while the other lasciviously tries to kiss an alarmed woman passer-by. [21 xii] The world depicted here is unmistakeably urban, equally firmly male, and utterly sociable – or at least built on human interaction of one kind or another. No character is shown on his or her own. Seymour’s London is thus a world of close contiguity and contact. It is therefore a potentially disorderly world in which human interaction results in either conflict or extravagantly theatrical moments. The class origins of the metropolitan denizens shown is broad, ranging from the frock-coated ‘gentlemen’ who frequent the cigar divan and the theatre, through dissolute but somewhat dandified clergymen, down to skilled artisans, clerks, actors and bailiffs. Elsewhere in New Readings, Seymour focuses even more resolutely on the lower ends of the urban spectrum – on sweeps’ boys, dustmen, draymen and grooms in particular.
[21 v] Here's a snip
[21 v] "Here's snip and nip and cut and slish and slash"
Seymour’s original aim seems to have been to use a wide range of literary sources for his graphic re-enactments of verbal meanings. The third issue of New Readings was devoted to Byron’s Giauor, but thereafter every issue was devoted to a single Shakespeare play. To produce over 260 images in this idiom was obviously a considerable feat of sustained comic invention, and a number of key ideas underpin Seymour’s project.
Fundamentally, then, Seymour builds a characteristically Regency representation of London – a world of chance encounter and accident, constant reversals of fortune, but essentially theatrical, spectacular and full of dramatic interest. Seymour also shows a strong adherence to the modes of eighteenth century caricature through his interest in body shapes, and especially in the play between the svelte if self-conscious elegance of the swells in the cigar divan, the well-nourished and complacent obesity of the man at the tailor’s shop, and the gigantic traveller who has unwittingly sat upon a thinner man in the omnibus. Other typical caricature exaggerations of particular physical features occur – the tailor in [21 vi] has a head too big for his body, and the actor in [21 xiv] shows off an enormous mouth. All the figures border on the grotesque. Yet the urban energy displayed by this group of images is immediately visible. Seymour delineates a society in which chance encounters and everyday meetings are imbued with a sense of both theatrical sociability and visual delight. In evident contrast to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century caricature tradition, much of this urban drama takes place not on the streets, but rather in enclosed commercial spaces – offices, workshops, places of entertainment, an omnibus. Such a sense of enclosure is underlined by the nature of the images themselves, as the potentially vague and crayonny shape of the lithograph is here tightly enclosed into a double ruled frame. Many lithographed comic images from this period act out a similar dialogue between the ‘edgeless’ nature of the lithographed image and a highly regulated linear page layout that contains the image tightly into ruled boxes. C.J.Grant’s several lithographed magazines are particularly dominated by boxes, grids and rules. Overall in the New Readings Seymour, while acknowledging his deep affection for the tropes, structures and codes of traditional eighteenth century caricature, is beginning to move his work out from exaggeration and the grotesque towards a more closely observed, more naturalistic account of an interacting society in which aggressive sociability is constantly rescued from potential disaster by its comic potential.