Ugly Bluestocking, Floppy-Haired Pianist

Posted by on October 6th, 2010 at 9:12 AM

There’s a reason people talked about philistinism in the days of Victoria and Edward. Consider the pundit and the soloist who are held up for ridicule below. The easiest thing to conclude from their treatment is that it’s much better to be rich and unimpressed than it is to be an artist or a scholar.

The first cartoon is by George du Maurier and dates from 1895, when his eyesight was going and he had a year to live. His target here is a bluestocking:

© 1955 by Bradbury, Agnew & Company, Ltd.

The capton, if you can’t make it out, runs like this. He: “That’s Mrs. Grimshaw, who lectures on bimetallism. I’ve heard her. How exasperatingly clever she seems to be!” She: “Yes — but how consolingly ugly!”

Next, a cartoon from 1907. I can’t read the signature, but the artist is doing pretty much the same thing as du Maurier, right down to the same handsome gentleman and lady with their drawling commentaries. The main difference is that the draftsmanship is stronger. Even the lean, incisive gentleman’s prow of a nose is more subtly formed:

© 1955 by Bradbury, Agnew & Company, Ltd.

She: “What do you think of his execution?” He: “I’m in favor of it.”

Punch appears to have presided over a cartoon genre (not its only, of course) in which the rich were shown off pretty much for the sake of being rich. The point of the cartoon was gorgeous specimens of the upper class; the joke was necessary, but as an excuse. Look who takes up most of the space in the cartoons here.

About the philistines … one has to admit they had their reasons too. Once opinions and art became things to be cultivated, too many counterfeits were passed off. The wild-haired pianist from Moravia might not be especially good, which could be why he was shaking his hair and throwing about his elbows. In fact, Sturgeon’s Law being what it is, he is probably far less special than he would like to appear, and the lean, incisive upper-class gentleman is merely exercising the function we all wish to exercise, which is to recognize sham when we see it. On the other hand, it’s not like the gentleman would know or care if he did hear a superior pianist.

Daily proverb. See her face, run away, live to pine another day!

Stan says. A living skeleton prowls London — but so does Dracula!

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