Literature and Advertising in Late Georgian England ca.1780-1820


Professor John Strachan, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) and Professor of English, Bath Spa University


15 July 2019


Professor John Strachan is a poet and critic, and is the author of Advertising and Satirical Culture in the Romantic Period (CUP 2007) and, with Clare McNally, Advertising, Literature and Print Culture in Ireland, 1891-1922 (Palgrave Macmillan 2012). He is planning to write a general history of advertising in Britain.


His illuminating talk began by mentioning two earlier studies, by ES Turner: The Shocking History of Advertising in Britain (1952) and TR Nebbutt: Advertising in Britain (1982). Two important books on Victorian advertising both said that Georgian (i.e. earlier) advertising was poor stuff by comparison. They were Lori Ann Loeb: Consuming Angels: Advertising and Victorian Women (1992) and Thomas Richards: The Community Culture of Victorian England (1990); John Strachan disagrees, for obvious reasons.  John drew attention to the Bath Herald and Register – issue of Saturday 21 January 1797, where advertisements were on the front page. Because of a heavy tax, newspaper advertising was very expensive until the 1840s.


The leading illustrator and caricaturist George Cruikshank (1792-1878) produced as a very young man an advertisement in 1810 for ‘Warren’s Blacking Boot Polish’. Warren’s premises were at 30 The Strand, London. A poem, The Cat and the Boot, or An improvement on Mirrors, was referred to, in which a cat looks at a (polished) boot - and sees another cat. We were reminded that Charles Dickens toiled as a boy in a blacking factory, while his father was in a debtor’s prison. In 1810, another Warren’s advertisement showed a cockerel looking into a ‘boot’ mirror. In the 1810s, this precocious cartoonist also produced lottery advertisements. Decades later, in 1860-62, Cruikshank in The Worship of Bacchus showed a man drinking at the Fox and Goose public house, implying self indulgence and lack of self control.


This was the age of the self-advertising entrepreneur. A board in the street would advertise, for example, ‘Potts’ Pills’, a ready medicinal remedy. There was an ambulatory culture of advertising in late Georgian England - for instance, of theatrical events.  In Advertising considered as an Art (1843) it was stated that ‘…Many men whose humble occupations would, without the art of advertising, have condemned them too the darkest obscurity, have become notorious, if not celebrated.’


There was a link between consumer culture, art and popular culture, which figures such as Cruikshank exploited to the full. An 1808 Lottery handbill, Hazard at the Royal Exchangerevealed three prizes of £30,000: 100 capitals all in Sterling money; and ‘…12 Pipes of Port Wine’. Another offered six prizes of £20,000 (Swift and Co., 11 Poultry, Charing Cross). All these encouraged gambling in the population at large.


In the 1790s, Beetham’s washing machines appeared. They were known as ‘The Wonder’, or ‘The Magic Mill’, and allegedly could do sixty shirts in an hour. Some adverts drew attention to the link between alcohol consumption and physical problems, such as gout. TH Jones’ Bottle Green (1827) showed a man with a gouty foot drinking too much champagne.  Atkinson’s ‘Bear Grease’ (1830) was a popular product. Barbers would keep bears on the premises, then announce when they had been slaughtered – for the medicinal grease. ‘Rowland’s Macassar Oil’, ‘…the Original and Genuine’ was advertised as a cure for baldness, including ‘…A Treatise on the Hair, with Instructions Enclosed.’ Mary Rowland’s products included such brand names as ‘Odonto’, ‘Kalydor’, and ‘Alsana Extract’.  Some advertisements, such as those for hair products, included ‘…verbatim parody’, which incorporated direct quotation from the formal model of the parody. An example was ‘Macassar Oil’, claiming to cure baldness and promote the growth of new hair. C Macalpine, ‘Hair Cutter and Peruquier’ to George IV (1825) claimed to ‘…operate on 300 heads of hair weekly’.


In the Sussex Weekly Advertiser, February 1791, and advertisement appeared for ‘Gowland’s Lotion’ ‘…for cutaneous eruptions’. It claimed to be an ‘…effectual remedy for scorbutic and herpetic eruptions’. A claim was made for ‘…the entire removal of sallow effects on ladies’ faces, and the restoration of natural bloom to the complexion.’ Then there was ‘Gregory’s Stomachic Powder’ for ‘…indigestion, acidity, flatulence, and torpidity of the bowels’. It was said to be ‘…particularly suitable for Gouty and Dyspeptic Individuals’.


There was an address by ‘J White, Surgeon, and Man Midwife, and Mrs White, Midwife’ over ‘…concealed pregnancy’, offering a discreet ‘…effectual remedy to remove all obstructions and irregularities’. In 1810, ‘American Soothing Syrup’ was offered to mothers of teething children, who were ‘…in danger of measles or chill-cough.’ ‘Widow Welch’s Pills’ (1830) were offered for all female complaints and nervous disorders - a vast constituency indeed. ‘Lardner and Co’s Charcoal Tooth Powder’ was also on offer in 1804 to all and sundry.  George Packwood (1796) was a pioneer of making the consumer pay for both the advertising and the product. A good example was the ‘Razorstrop’ from the first decade of the 19thcentury. Hunting razors were popular - advertised as ‘…shaving made easy on horseback.’


Links with contemporary literature were made in such sober and influential journals as The Edinburgh Review, which in 1843 had a piece by Abraham Haywood on The Art of Advertising, mentioning Scott, Byron, Moore, Wordsworth and Southey. In his appendix to The Two Foscari (1821) Byron wrote ‘…While I’ve been defending (Alexander) Pope’s character, the lower orders of Grub Street (i.e. journalism) appear to have been assailing mine!’


Advertising drew constantly on entertainment and popular imagery, The Warren advertisements of the period between ca.1805-1820 drew on the Queen, Shakespeare’s Juliet, Mother Goose and the Pantomime image. In 1824, in Warreniana, a Byronic parody of Wordsworth, by WF Deacon, appeared. Its opening lines are quoted here:


It chanced one summer morn I passed the clefts

Of Silver How, and turning to the left,

Fast by the blacksmith’s shop, two doors beyond

Old Stubb’s, the tart-woman’s, approached a glen

Secluded as a coy nun from the world.

Beauteous it was, but lonesome, and while I

Leaped up for joy to think the earth was good

And lusty in her boyhood, I beheld

Graven in the tawny rock these magic words,

‘Buy Warren’s Blacking’, then in thought

I said ‘My stars, how we improve!’ Amid these scenes

Where hermit nature, jealous of the world,

Guards from profane approach her solitude;

E’en here, despite each fence, adventurous art

Thrusts her intrusive puffs; as though the rocks

And Waterfalls were mortals, and wore shoes.


However, there was a downside, as observed by JH Reynolds in The Athenaeum (1830) where advertising was severely criticised and treated contemptuously. Advertisers were accused of making too much money from ‘…a class of human being who were greedy of belief’ - i.e. over-credulous. There was a need, said Reynolds, to ‘…protect the credulous confiding and uneasy from the wily art of the insidious advertiser.’ Such comments have been made about the world of advertising ever since.


John Strachan ended with these facts that he said everyone knew about Byron: 

- That he as ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’.

- That he slept with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh.

- That he awoke one morning and ‘…found himself famous’ (following the publication of the second canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812)).


Byron’s works were carefully advertised by his publisher John Murray, who later destroyed the manuscript of Byron’s Memoirs by burning the only copy in the fireplace of his office at 50 Albemarle Street, in central London. Murray advertised The Giaour: A Fragment of a Turkish Tale ‘…from whom may be had the sixth edition of Childe Harold’.  The Morning Chronicle of 7 June 1819 said ‘…Next week Don Juan’ on 14 June 1819, the Morning Chronicle said ‘…Tomorrow, while on 15 June the headline was ‘…This day is published ‘Don Juan’’.


Copyright Dr Robert Blackburn and Professor John Strachan.

This summary was made from notes taken at the talk on 15 July 2019 at the BRLSI, Bath