Frederick Marryat (1792-1848) was a distinguished officer in the Royal Navy, serving from 1806 to 1830, seeing action during the Napoleonic War and in the War of 1812. When Napoleon died on St. Helena, Marryat was entrusted with command of the vessel with the responsibility of delivering the official despatch to London.
With the arrival of peace in 1815, Marryat was inspired to devote part of his leisure time to writing and drawing. As an author, he was perhaps the first novelist to focus on a life at sea, inspiring several generations of later writers, notably C. S. Forrester and his eponymous hero Horatio Hornblower. When Marryat’s writing career began to overtake his naval career, he resigned his commission. He is also known as an enthusiastic, but perhaps amateurish, artist of scenes from his naval life, best known for his drawing of Napoleon’s body laid out after his death and for a series of sketches made for George Cruikshank.
George Cruikshank (1792-1878) was one of the greatest English caricaturists of his day, along with his contemporaries James Gillray (1756-1815) and Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827). Cruikshank was perhaps the most commercially successful of the three, producing nearly 10,000 images over more than a half century. While he aimed his barbs at a wide range of targets, the royal family was a favourite, as also the ever-more outlandish fads and fashions of the English upper-classes. One such subject, to which he returned repeatedly, were the “dandies” of the age, young men of the upper classes who went to extreme lengths to appear fashionable, a fixation which Cruikshank and many contemporaries viewed as an inappropriately feminine concern for appearance.
Lacing in Style directs Cruikshank’s contempt at dandified members of the Navy’s officer class. Here a young midshipman is endeavouring to use a corset to shape his already slim frame into an extreme wasp-waist. His ambition is expressed in the speech bubble above his head:
“Very well my hearties very indeed – ‘pon honor. This lacing is not very agreeable, but it will be fully compensated by the grand dash I shall make at East London Theatre tonight – Oh! I shall be most enchanting! Oh, charming! Oh! delightful! after I’ve got a pint of Rowlands Maccassar Oil on my head – Pull away! heave away! pull away hearties!!”
Four seamen are using a windlass to tighten the strings of the corset, expressing their contempt in the coarse language of the common sailor. One of their comrades, sitting at ease on a cannon, observes:
“I say Master Midshipman, I always thought you a little crack-brained; now I’m convinced of it, for as you’ve turn’d Dandy, that’s proof positive — It’s all up with you & all I have to say is you’re not worth a — quid of tobacco.”
A fellow midshipman mocks,
“My Eyes!! Oh Murder! Ha! ha! ha!! Jack Greathead the cheesemonger’s son got stays!!! Well, I’ve a good mind to get petticoats! — these Dandies are a disgrace to Great Britain.”
While this all might be perceived as a general commentary on the fashions of the would-be fashionable, it must be set against a background of the recent scandal onboard H.M.S. Africaine, when four serving members of the Royal Navy were hanged for homosexuality. It surely reflects Marryat’s own insights into ship-board conduct, when large numbers of men were confined together for extended periods.
Thomas Tegg (1776-1845) was an active and successful map-, print- and bookseller and publisher, from premises on Cheapside, the City of London’s main shopping street, known for a substantial output of political material, particularly pamphlets, but over a hundred caricatures are to be found in the collections of the British Museum.
Cohn, George Cruikshank, catalogue raisonné (London, 1924), #1299. Dorothy George, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires in the British Museum, vol. IX (1949), #13440. Reid, Descriptive catalogue of the works of George Cruikshank (London, 1871), #876. For commentary on the homoerotic aspects of the midshipman’s dress and posture, and Cruikshank’s attitudes towards the “dandy” subculture, see Dominic James, Oscar Wilde Prefigured: Queer Fashioning and British Caricature, 1750-1900, pp. 117-118.
The British Museum describes the satire as follows:
“A midshipman (left) dressed as a dandy … braces hands and feet against a mast on the extreme left, while four sailors, standing on a turn-table (right), wind up by a windlass a rope attached to his stays …, compressing a wasp-waist. His coat, bell-shaped top-hat, with belt and dirk, are on a chair beside him. He says: “Very well my hearties very indeed—’pon honor. This lacing is not very agreeable, but it will be fully compensated by the grand dash I shall make at East London Theatre tonight—Oh! I shall be most enchanting! Oh, charming! Oh! delightful! after Ive got a pint of Rowlands Maccassar Oil … on my head—Pull away! heave away! pull away hearties!!” An old sailor sits on a gun smoking; he leans against the side of the ship, looking over his shoulder to say with a contemptuous grimace: “I say Master Midshipman, I always thought you a little crack-brained; now I’m convinced of it, for as you’ve turn’d Dandy, that’s proof positive—Its all up withyou & all I have to say is you’re not worth a — quid of tobacco.” Another midshipman, wearing a cockaded top-hat, jeers at the dandy with flexed knees and raised arms: “My Eyes!! Oh Murder! Ha! ha! ha!! Jack Greathead the cheesemonger’s son got stays!!! Well, I’ve a good mind to get petticoats!—these Dandies are a disgrace to Great Britan—” The four sailors pushing hard at the windlass all grin; one asks: “I say, Mainmast, do you intend to get Stays”; Mainmast: “Get Stays! Why man I have stays already & have order’d a pair of Buckskin, & 2 pair of Sealskin, what do you think of that eh?!!” The third, a black man, says: “Me vid tink Massa vid soon have the Belly ache!!” The fourth: “Huzza! don’t flinch my boys tho’ he call “Stop” don’t do so—Heave away my lads give him a twitcher—heave away He, Ho He Ho—!!””