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[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?


Posted by Susie at Wed Dec 19 2007 17:25

That must be a rose on her tablecloth skirt. Perhaps if we'd lived back them we would have been able to at least determine that they were girls dressed up.
Ditto to your remarks on the greatest alarm, and the magazine's power of pardon. I wondered the same.

Posted by Leonard at Wed Dec 19 2007 17:49

I could tell it was two girls and I was planning on making fun of commenters who thought the taller girl was a full-grown women, but then I saw the History called them "two ladies, or a lady and a servant". Also making fun of your commenters is not very friendly, so I dropped the idea.

Posted by jacob at Thu Dec 20 2007 01:19


Posted by jacob at Thu Dec 20 2007 01:23

"in other news, jacob berendes was pardoned today due to his ability to see the forest."

Posted by Kris Straub at Fri Dec 21 2007 01:37

Heil Hitler!

Posted by Leonard at Fri Dec 21 2007 08:47

Not in public, Kris! You're supposed to speak in politically charged, coded catchphrases!

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