The Objects

9th Apr 1815

John Bull in Alarm Image.jpg
Source: © Trustees of the British Museum; reproduced with permission. [Roud V8500]

‘John Bull in Alarm … A New Song to an Old Tune’

Contributed by: Oskar Cox Jensen

A typically dynamic Cruikshank print, accompanying song lyrics to an unknown tune, paints a vivid scene from left to right. Soldiers sporting Phrygian caps and bearing Napoleonic eagles cheer ‘Vive l’Empereur’; a winged black demon pitches a virile Napoleon onto the French throne. As he swaps his bicorne for a crown, Napoleon’s spurred foot boots a treasure-bearing, gouty Louis XVIII into the arms of John Bull (England). His phlegmatic consolation reads, ‘Cheer up old Lewis for as fast as he kicks you down we’ll pop you up again.’ Behind John Bull fly the standards of England, Russia, Prussia – and two unidentified nations (Austria is conspicuously, if unfairly, absent).

The subheading ‘A New Song to an Old Tune’ is less practical information, more witty aside: history repeats itself. There is reassurance here, as in the speech above – Britain will deal with the crisis. But the tone is cynical. Yes, the Allies will win again. But the price, once more, is war taxation at home, for John Bull must ‘pay the piper’ and ‘equip and maintain’ the allied armies.

Unsurprisingly, Napoleon is accompanied by devils in the lyric as in the print, yet the lines are admiring, rather than condemnatory: his ‘wonderful’ luck and skill must come from a Faustian pact. How else could ‘the rogue in his chaise and two pair / Put to flight the French King and his army’?