Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Funnies, Historical-Style: Jack's Prize

I think I've mentioned before my mild obsession with the Lewis Walpole library, a collection of historical prints, mainly cartoons and humorous reproductions. If you're researching ordinary-people clothing, as I am wont to do, these kinds of pictorial primary sources are invaluable. One of the common complaints of reproducing lower or middling class clothing is the lack of pictorial sources aside from portraits. Complain no longer. Go browse.

For your amusement today, a pair of prints. Taken at face value, they may seem innocent (and the ladies' clothes are lovely. I heart the gigantic hats!).

But read the captions.
Jack on a Cruise: Avast there! Back your Maintopsail

Jack Got Safe Into Port With His Prize

Ok, so perhaps still somewhat innocent, or at least not overt. Weird wording about a guy named Jack courting a lady. Except...Jack is not merely Jack. Jack is shorthand for a sailor--and the fellow is dressed in a style normal for a sailor. And then the odd captions make much more sense.

A cruise was (and still is) the term for a naval vessel's time at sea. In the 18th century, a cruise was also generally considered a time during which a ship would attempt to engage in naval battles and take prizes--taking another ship meant that the victor had claim to the goods on board and even the ship itself. So, Jack is on a cruise--for a very particular kind of prize. The second print shows us that he's proven successful--he's come back to "port" with his prize.

And the prize? Well, proper ladies probably wouldn't go in for dalliances with sailors. The stereotype of pairing prostitutes and sailors was alive and well in the 18th century--it may be assumed that this woman could be a professional. Or perhaps she is an unsuspecting woman about to be loved and left. I tend to assume the former--mostly from the large quantities of other prints on Walpole from the period that feature ladies of the evening!


The Dreamstress said...

How scandalous! Do you think that there actually might be a bit of a comment on the ridiculousness of the woman's outfit in the prints? The huge hat does seem a little sail-like, and the skirt makes her a bit of a boat.

Rowenna said...

Dreamstress--it definitely could be, especially the bit about the topsail with that giant hat! Though compared to some satirical prints, these clothes seem almost!