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: I forgot to mention that yesterday's sordid story of Vending Machine French Fries is one of my favorite episodes of The Future: A Retrospective.

[Comments] (6) And Now, The Conclusion: Previously, on News You Can Bruise:


We pick up the story with The History of "Punch", new to Project Gutenberg. They have a whole chapter on Thackeray, including the section "A Mysterious Picture", which describes the cartoon:

In 1847 (Volume XII., p. 59) Thackeray contributed a "social" picture which is to this day a wonder to all beholders. It is entitled "Horrid Tragedy in Private Life," and represents a room in which two ladies, or a lady and a servant, are in a state of the greatest alarm. [The maximum possible alarm was lower then -ed.] What the meaning of it all is there is nothing whatever to indicate (unless it be that something has fallen on the taller lady's dress); and on its appearance the "Man in the Moon" offered a reward of £500 and a free pardon to anyone who would publish an explanation. The reward was never claimed; and Thackeray's contribution remains one of Punch's Prize Puzzles, unsolved, and, apparently, unsolvable.

First, "Man in the Moon" is a great name for a magazine. Second, it's awesome that in those days magazines held the power of pardon. Truly it was a more, or possibly less, enlightened time.

Now, searching on the cartoon's name gets you to The Works of William Makepeace Thackeray with bibliographic commentary and nostalgia by his daughter, Anne Ritchie:

Is it too late to claim the £500? The room was my father's study, where two little girls were found by him dressed up in various tablecloths and curtains. One was enacting a queen, and was ordering the rival sovereign off to instant execution, when he came home unexepectedly, and drew them then and there.

Jake Berendes came closest to divining the purpose of the cartoon: 'i think the message is "there is a lot of nonsense you will have to put up with if you have children so don't bother".'

As The Hitherto Unidentified Contributions of W. M. Thackeray to "Punch", which I'd actually encountered on a previous cartoon hunt but given up on because I was looking for the wrong year, points out, "neither in drawing nor text is there any clue to the situation; nor, if there were, could the joke be considered a very funny one."

Indeed. This discovery opens up more questions, like, how did this cartoon get published?


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