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قراءة كتاب A History of Caricature and Grotesque in Literature and Art

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‏اللغة: English
A History of Caricature and Grotesque
in Literature and Art

A History of Caricature and Grotesque in Literature and Art

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 1


From an Engraving by Burgmair (15th cent.)

In Literature and Art.







I have felt some difficulty in selecting a title for the contents of the following pages, in which it was, in fact, my design to give, as far as may be done within such moderate limits, and in as popular a manner as such information can easily be imparted, a general view of the History of Comic Literature and Art. Yet the word comic seems to me hardly to express all the parts of the subject which I have sought to bring together in my book. Moreover, the field of this history is very large, and, though I have only taken as my theme one part of it, it was necessary to circumscribe even that, in some degree; and my plan, therefore, is to follow it chiefly through those branches which have contributed most towards the formation of modern comic and satiric literature and art in our own island.

Thus, as the comic literature of the middle ages to a very great extent, and comic art in a considerable degree also, were founded upon, or rather arose out of, those of the Romans which had preceded them, it seemed desirable to give a comprehensive history of this branch of literature and art as it was cultivated among the peoples of antiquity. Literature and art in the middle ages presented a certain unity of general character, arising, probably, from the uniformity of the influence of the Roman element of society, modified only by its lower degree of intensity at a greater distance from the centre, and by secondary causes attendant upon it. To understand the literature of any one country in Western Europe, especially during what we may term the feudal period—and the remark applies to art equally—it is necessary to make ourselves acquainted with the whole history of literature in Western Europe during that time. The peculiarities in different countries naturally became more marked in the progress of society, and more strongly individualised; but it was not till towards the close of the feudal period that the literature of each of these different countries was becoming more entirely its own. At that period the plan I have formed restricts itself, according to the view stated above. Thus, the satirical literature of the Reformation and pictorial caricature had their cradle in Germany, and, in the earlier half of the sixteenth century, carried their influence largely into France and England; but from that time any influence of German literature on these two countries ceases. Modern satirical literature has its models in France during the sixteenth century, and the direct influence of this literature in France upon English literature continued during that and the succeeding century, but no further. Political caricature rose to importance in France in the sixteenth century, and was transplanted to Holland in the seventeenth century, and until the beginning of the eighteenth century England owed its caricature, indirectly or directly, to the French and the Dutch; but after that time a purely English school of caricature was formed, which was entirely independent of Continental caricaturists.

There are two senses in which the word history may be taken in regard to literature and art. It has been usually employed to signify a chronological account of authors or artists and their works, though this comes more properly under the title of biography and bibliography. But there is another and a very different application of the word, and this is the meaning which I attach to it in the present volume. During the middle ages, and for some period after (in special branches), literature—I mean poetry, satire, and popular literature of all kinds—belonged to society, and not to the individual authors, who were but workmen who gained a living by satisfying society’s wants; and its changes in form or character depended all upon the varying progress, and therefore changing necessities, of society itself. This is the reason why, especially in the earlier periods, nearly the whole mass of the popular—I may, perhaps, be allowed to call it the social literature of the middle ages, is anonymous; and it was only at rare intervals that some individual rose and made himself a great name by the superiority of his talents. A certain number of writers of fabliaux put their names to their compositions, probably because they were names of writers who had gained the reputation of telling better or racier stories than many of their fellows. In some branches of literature—as in the satirical literature of the sixteenth century—society still exercised this kind of influence over it; and although its great monuments owe everything to the peculiar genius of their authors, they were produced under the pressure of social circumstances. To trace all these variations in literature connected with society, to describe the influences of society upon literature and of literature upon society, during the progress of the latter, appears to me to be the true meaning of the word history, and it is in this sense that I take it.

This will explain why my history of the different branches of popular literature and art ends at very different periods. The grotesque and satirical sculpture, which adorned the ecclesiastical buildings, ceased with the middle ages. The story-books, as a part of this social literature, came down to the sixteenth century, and the history of the jest-books which arose out of them cannot be considered to extend further than the beginning of the seventeenth; for, to give a list of jest-books since that time would be to compile a catalogue of books made by booksellers for sale, copied from one another, and, till recently, each more contemptible than its predecessor. The school of satirical literature in France, at all events as far as it had any influence in England, lasted no longer than the earlier part of the seventeenth century. England can hardly be said to have had a school of satirical literature, with the exception of its comedy, which belongs properly to the seventeenth century; and its caricature belongs especially to the last century and to the earlier part of the present, beyond which it is not a part of my plan to carry it.

These few remarks will perhaps serve to explain what some may consider to be defects in my book; and with them I venture to trust it to the indulgence of its readers. It is a subject which will have some novelty for the English reader, for I am not aware that we have any previous book devoted to it. At all events, it is not a mere compilation from other people’s labours.