Parody Of: The New Times (London). Title: “A Slap at Slop.”
Parody By: William Hone. Date: 1821. Pages: 4.
Contributors: William Hone (writer), George Cruikshank (art).
Availability: PDF of pamphlet version online here.
William Hone may have been the original pop-culture fanatic. Born in London in 1780, he was drawn to the printing trade and radical politics while still in his teens. In the 1790s he was a disciple of free-thinker William Godwin and briefly belonged the London Corresponding Society, one of the pro-French groups targeted in The Times’s 1794 self-parody, “The New Times.” In 1810, he began writing and publishing attacks on the authorities that were scathing, witty and abundant — 175 separate titles between 1815 and 1821.
Hone collected printed ephemera most of his life, from old-master prints to election handbills, and he was fascinated by parodies. He loved to present his radical satires as if they were children’s stories, advertising circulars and — most notoriously — books of religious instruction. Around 1817, he issued three political satires modeled on three core documents of the Church of England: the Catechism, the Liturgy and the Creed. In one, “The Late John Wilkes’s Catechism,” he even parodied the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Lord who art in the Treasury, whatsoever be thy name, thy power be prolonged, thy will be done throughout the empire, as it is in each session. … Turn us not out of our places; but keep us in the House of Commons, the land of Pensions and Plenty; and deliver us from the People. Amen.”
Seeing an opening, the Tory government charged Hone with three separate counts of blasphemy, claiming it was prosecuting him not for his politics but for mocking religion. The trials were held on consecutive days in December 1817, all before the same judge but with different juries. Acting as his own lawyer, Hone won three acquittals and national fame as a champion of free speech. His most effective tactic was showing jurors dozens of religious parodies similar to his own that had not been prosecuted. Collecting these whetted his interest in the subject, and he spent the next 20 years gathering material for a book. Unfortunately, the book never materialized, and his collection disappeared after his death in 1842.
Hone never copied a specific publication in detail, but a few times he came close. One such was “Buonaparte-phobia, or Cursing made Easy” (1815), a half-sheet poster mocking The Times’s nonstop abuse of Napoleon. Hone made The Times look ridiculous simply by knitting the more spittle-flecked passages of its anti-Boney editorials into one 3,000-word rant. He attributed these attacks to a “Dr. Slop,” after the incompetent obstetrician in Tristram Shandy, but their real author was a quarrelsome and widely disliked reactionary named John Stoddard. Originally a lawyer, Stoddard began contributing to The Times in 1810 and was named editor in 1814. His duties included writing the “leading article” (i.e., lead editorial), but his “style was as violent as it was personal,” the paper’s official history said: “In 1814 The Times was ridiculed as a magazine of curses.” Essayist William Hazlitt, who despised Stoddard’s politics despite (or because of) being his brother-in-law, wrote in 1823 that Stoddard’s Times “might be imagined to be composed as well as printed with a steam engine.”
The Times axed Stoddard at the end of 1816, suspecting him of disloyalty. Two months later, he reappeared as editor of a rival paper, The Day, which he soon renamed The New Times (no kin to the 1794 parody); the real Times sniffily dismissed it as “the New, or Mock, Times.” In 1820, Hone renewed his attacks on Stoddard with a reprint of “Buonoparte-phobia,” followed by a four-page, broadsheet parody of The New Times titled “A Slap at Slop and the Bridge-Street Gang.” (The latter was a pro-government propaganda group whose real name was the Constitutional Association for Opposing the Progress of Disloyal and Seditious Principles.)
Like the 1976 film Network, “A Slap at Slop” anticipated media trends that seemed outlandish but later became standard. Its front page consisted entirely of ads, as was the custom, but Hone gave them the bold headlines and large illustrations previously seen only in posters and handbills. “My first intention was to parody Slop’s paper, ‘The Slop Pail,’ or ‘Muck Times,’ throughout,” Hone wrote. “But … what could I do with thoughts as unquotable, as confused, as ill-conceived, as ill expressed as that puissant Lord’s — without depth or originality — as plentiful and superficial as duckweeds…. Under the stringent necessity of varying my original plan, … I have parodied some of the features common to the Slop Pail, and supplied … a Sketch of HIS LIFE — filling the remainder of the sheet in my own way.” In that sketch, Hone described Stoddard as a man who “mistook passionate heat for the enthusiasm of genius, a habit of loud talking for talent, a ranting way of writing for reasoning, and pertinacity of manner for firmness of character.”
Hone’s “own way” ranged from pure nonsense to blackest humor: One fake ad pictured the Duke of Wellington, hero of Waterloo and current Tory leader in the House of Lords, as a turbaned “Indian juggler” forcing Britannia to swallow his sword. “Wanted To Go Abroad,” said another ad, “a stout, active, stone-hearted young man, of a serious turn, as an apprentice in the military business, and to assist as a missionary. Apply at the Bishop and Bayonet, Westminster.” Directly below that was a picture of “A Nondescript” — a creature made up of mitres, crowns, boots and other symbols of authority — accompanied by several hundred words of pure gibberish.
The “Slap” also contains the earliest known parody of a national ad campaign. Robert Warren’s Shoe Blacking had made itself famous with a drawing of a cat startled by its own reflection in a freshly polished boot. In Hone’s version, a rat sees himself wearing a judge’s wig — a hit at politician Charles Warren (no kin to Robert), a former radical who had cynically turned Tory in exchange for a Welsh judgeship worth 1,000 Pounds a year. The fact that one of the Tory leaders had given his name to the Wellington boot must have been an irresistible set-up for Hone and his illustrator, cartoonist George Cruikshank. It didn’t hurt that Cruikshank had also drawn the original ad.
On inside pages, Hone parodied Robert Southey’s overblown ode to the late King George III, “A Vision of Judgement,” as “A Vision of Want of Judgement.” Southey was a fire-breathing radical who moved right relatively young; by 1813 he had ingratiated himself with enough Top People to be named Poet Laureate, much to his old comrades’ disgust. Cruikshank’s illustration shows the poet serenading his new muse: an overweight, underdressed George IV strumming a lyre. Hone also mocked Southey’s naked careerism in an ad for “Golden Ointment for the Eyes,” which the poet testifies is “astonishing! I immediately looked two ways at once, and saw my way clear to the Laureateship. I have seen in the dark ever since!”
Topical humor seldom outlives the issues that inspired it, and many of the jokes in “A Slap at Slop” have become the stuff of footnotes. What comes through undiminished is the force of Hone’s personality. He hated unearned privilege, militarism and servility, and he loved working people, old paper, liberty and forceful writing. And he really, really, really didn’t like John Stoddard. — VCR (edited 4/11/18 to correct info on Charles Warren)