John Bull’s Adventures in the Fiscal Wonderland
This time it was the White Knight, whom John recognized as having met before on the parade ground when he was driven off the field by the mutinous loaves. He came up to John’s side, exactly as the Red Knight had done, and tumbled off too, exactly in the same way. Then he got on his horse again, and the two Knights sat and glared at each other without speaking, John growing more and more bewildered all the time as to what they wanted him for and what they would do to him when they had got him.
“He’s mine—you know,” the Red Knight said at last.
“He was until I came and rescued him!” the White Knight replied.
“Well, we must fight for him, then,” said the Red Knight, as he took up his helmet (which hung from his saddle and looked to be a very odd kind) and put it on.
“You will observe the Rules of Arithmetic, of course?” the Red Knight added, as he put on his helmet.
“It all depends,” said the White Knight; and they began banging away at each other with so much noise that John got behind a tree so as to escape all chance of getting hit.
“These Rules seem to be very odd,” said John to himself, as he looked on at the fight. “One Rule seems to be that if one Knight makes a motion the other makes an exactly contrary one: if one becomes motionless, the other does so too. And when either makes a good point, his horse stamps the ground as if he were cheering at a political meeting.”
John Bull is the personification of Great Britain (or at least of England). He was first created in 1712 by John Arbuthnot, and eventually became a common sight in British editorial cartoons of the 19th and early 20th centuries. John is a sort of British Everyman, endowed with common sense and good intentions, who likes a pint of beer. In his trip to the Fiscal Wonderland, John’s frustrations with the bewildering nonsensicality of economic politics are made apparent by the author and illustrator.
Charles Geake (1867–1919) was, from 1892 to 1918, the head of the Liberal Publication Department, which had been established in 1887 by the National Liberal Federation (a union of all English and Welsh (but not Scottish) Liberal Associations), and the Liberal Central Association (an organization which had been founded in 1874 to facilitate Liberal Party communication throughout United Kingdom).
Francis Carruthers Gould (1844–1925) was a political cartoonist and caricaturist who contributed to the Pall Mall Gazette until he joined the Westminster Gazette when it was founded. He later became an assistant editor for that publication. Before he illustrated John Bull’s Adventures in the Fiscal Wonderland in 1904, Gould had already done the illustrations for Saki’s Westminster Alice in a series of publications from 1900 to 1902.
More than a century on, it is not always easy to identify the people caricatured by Gould. Still more arduous would be to attempt to explain the jokes and allusions by made by Geake—that would be material for an academic thesis. Nevertheless I can supply a few biographical summaries and photos to assist the reader to put the cartoon parodies into context and guide the reader who wishes to pursue an interest in any of these characters, or in the particulars of Tariff Reform, Free Trade, the Free Food League, etc.
I hope I have identified the players correctly: I am really no expert in early twentieth-century British politics. Not that I, or you, need to be to enjoy this book. The story’s parody of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland books is still relevant and amusing even today. Today’s bankers and politicians seem not to have learned much from history. Regrettable as that is, at least Charles Geake and Francis Carruthers Gould can still make us laugh about it!
HTML Michael Everson, Evertype, Cnoc Sceichín, Leac an Anfa, Cathair na Mart, Co. Mhaigh Eo, Éire, 2010-06-21
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