Funny ‘cause it’s true
These days we think of satire as something not only of popular entertainment but of necessity. Any democratic government must be open to it, whether they like it or not — usually the latter, though less so when applied equally to their opponents. It is something integral to our politics.
But where did it start? Well, some of the first came from the pen and paintbrush of William Hogarth. It helped that he lived in a time of great political corruption, farce and great unpopularity…. By , he had turned his hand to the depiction of English politics, with his work Humours of an Election. All were topics of heated debate in the coffee houses of both London and Oxford.
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There was also the pressing issue of the Jewish Naturalisation Act, passed by a Whig parliament in after royal ascent. Ironically, despite all the ribaldry and indignation of the mob, it was in fact the case that not a single Jew resided in Oxford at the time. The Oxfordshire County Council Election previously mentioned was one contested for the first time in 44 years, and somewhat curiously, there were two candidates for both Tory and Whig parties.
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Matters were further complicated by animosity between the Duke of Marlborough, supporting the Whigs, and the Earl of Abingdon and Lichfield, who was supporting their opponents. Both sides were competing for the support of around 4, forty shilling free-holders, merchants and shopkeepers.
Both sides were prepared to spend lavishly on feasts of roast beef, mutton pies and flagons of strong ale to capture these swing voters. Ideal for any skilled satirist, let alone one such as Hogarth. These were not the orderly events of modern times, though. Rather, they usually and farcically descended into riots, drunken brawls and debauchery.
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