Vanity Fair’s Leaders of Church and State

Malcolm Johnson

DLT, 128pp, hbk

978 0232531107, £14.99

Malcolm Johnson possesses 110 cartoons from the original pages of Vanity Fair magazine, depicting an array of leaders of church and state from Victorian Britain. He therefore substantially beats our own modest collection of prints; but we have enough experience of clerical corridors, presbytery passages, vicarage staircases and decanal dining rooms to know that this book will be of interest to very many clergy and church-minded laity. Perhaps it is the simple pleasure of seeing these ‘worthies’ skewered by the unflinching eye of Spy (the young artist Leslie Ward) and Ape (Carlo Pellegrini) and the caustic pen of ‘Jehu Junior’ (actually the editor of Vanity Fair, Thomas Gibson Bowles) that explains the enduring popularity of these caricatures and their accompanying vignettes. Perhaps it is the IW accuracy of the caricatures themselves. Or~ perhaps it is a desire to show to ourselves and our visitors that we take our Church and our Church history seriously, but not hat seriously; that we are knowledgeable about it all, but in a wry and witty kind ofway. Perhaps it is, as Ian Hislop suggests in, his foreword, the remarkable fact that Churchmen could once have excited such popular attention; or the secret longing to subject the worthies of our own day to similar treatment that keeps us coming Vanity Fair back for more. How many of us know of Church bishops today who might match Jehu’s description of Harvey Goodwin, sometime Bishop of Carlisle, who ‘exemplifies the truth that earnestly delivered platiti ales often obtain weight and command attention. He is an excellent, undistinguished, second class Bishop’?

Malcolm Johnson points out in his introduction that Private Eye’s ‘Bishop of the Month’ caused much merriment in the 1990s, but also much offence, not least to those bishops who were not included! We can hardly fail to agree with his judgement that Rowan Williams, Richard Chartres and John Sentamu would make excellent subjects today; though we are frankly puzzled by his assertion that Michael Marshall is a latter-day Edward King, as with his description of Ian Hislop, A.N. Wilson and Roy Strong as ‘famous, holy laity’. We can be sure that none of these faithful Anglicans would wish to have an exceptional degree of sanctity ascribed to them. Johnson is on safer ground in his description of today’s Church as ‘dull and drab’.

But the introduction is not the point of this book — nor is the foreword by Hislop or the stylish postscript by Richard Coles. The pictures are the stars of the show, and here the publishers must be congratulated on the high quality colour reproductions of all fifty of them. At £14.99 this book is excellent value — our only wish is that it could have been bigger, to enable larger reproductions of the cartoons. But that would, of course, have increased the price.

Specifically excluded from this volume are Nonconformists and Roman Catholics, who will have to wait for another volume’. There are a number of notable converts however: Cardinal Manning, Cardinal Newman, G.K. Chesterton. The clergy range from Bishops such as Wilberforce, Benson and Tait to Anglo-Catholic heroes such as Pusey, Liddon, Tooth and Mackonochie (which suggests that Anglo-Catholicism fascinated people, whether they were attracted or appalled); via eccentrics such as William Spooner, Hugh Haweis and Fr Ignatius. The laity are primarily eminent statesmen: Gladstone, Disraeli, Lord Salisbury; and two monarchs: Queen Victoria and Edward VII. It is also interesting to see the entries for men who were relatively young in their public careers at the time they were caricatured, and subsequently went on to achieve even more notable things: Winston Churchill and Herbert Hensley Henson are among them.

Victorian Worthies adopts a successful format: for each entry, the cartoon, followed over the page by the original caption which appeared beneath it (‘High Church’, ‘Not a brawler’, ‘The Next Pope), all or part of the original commentary by Bowles, and then a brief biography by Johnson. These are frequently illuminating, often funny, and occasionally poignant. If at times we might regret the tone of his remarks (‘the fierce bigotry of the Oxford Movement ), then elsewhere we must be grateful that he has a fitting eye for the comic and the absurd: Bishop Winnington-Ingram of London had three baths a day, and preaching to an East End congregation who probably only had a weekly bath if they were lucky, he told them that after a bath he felt rosy all over. A voice shouted out, “Who is Rosie?”‘. Jehu, Spy and Ape would be proud. NDr