Week 16: Networking locations depicted in Cruikshank satires

I’ve blogged about using network analysis to interpret datasets before – here and here – but only with reference to Google Fusion Tables. More recently – and thanks to a tip-off from Kent History postgrad Alice White – I’ve been playing with Gephi. Gephi is an open source network visualisation tool, and although it takes a little while to get into (especially establishing what format of data it will accept) excellent tutorials and detailed descriptions of the algorithms that can be applied to your data make Gephi ideal for serious researchers with novice technical ability upwards.

In order to better understand the Isaac Cruikshank corpus of satirical prints, I have been using Gephi to analyse the places depicted in his designs and comparing the patterns from publisher to publisher. Before this distance reading could begin, places had to be extracted from the prints. Frequently prints mirror scenes of urban drama occurring in specific places, such as Covent Garden Theatre in 1809. Other less ephemeral Cruikshank prints also use specific places to carry their satire. Peepers in Bond Street, or the cause of the lounge (Samuel Fores, 1793) works because it was in West End districts such as Bond Street where the latest fashions – in this case exposing ladies ankles – could be seen. Most prints however imply their location rather than state it: taking place in London but at no specific address, or in a generically rural area but close to no specific town. As these inferences and absences as just as significant as the specific locations depicted, studying the corpus as a whole requires the construction of a relational taxonomy for each print. For our purposes, this taxonomy runs from the most specific place depicted to the most generic: Peepers in Bond Street is therefore encoded as ‘Bond Street, London, England, Urban’; A Tartan Belle of 1792 (Samuel Fores, 1792) as ‘None [specific], Scotland, Rural’; A Fool and his money is soon parted (Robert Sayer, 1790) as ‘None [specific], England’. Doing so allows us to explore the relationships between specific plcaes (‘Bond Street’, ‘Paris’, ’11 Miles from London’) and generic places (‘England’, ‘Urban’, ‘At Sea’, ‘Holland’) in the designs Fores purchased from Isaac Cruikshank to exploit for profit.

Of three hundred and eighty-six Isaac Cruikshank designs published by Samuel Fores between 1788 and 1810, one hundred and fifty-seven (just over 40%) include no specific place information (note: I don’t claim that this corpus is complete, but it is large enough to be representative). Although this reveals that Cruikshank/Fores work dealt in specifics, a more nuanced picture emerges if we trace the directional relationship from the specific and to generic places which appear. This produces seven hundred and ninety-two specific to generic links. This figure exceeds the total prints (by factor of more than 2) because many prints have multiple links: in the case of A Tartan Belle of 1792 two links, ‘None>Scotland’ and ‘None>Rural’; for Peepers in Bond Street three links, ‘Bond Street>London’, ‘Bond Street>England’, and ‘Bond Street>Urban’. These links cluster around English urban scenes, the ranking of link destinations being England 34.5%, Urban 20.2%, London 14.2%, Rural 6.4%, and France 5% (with 19.7% remainder).

386 Prints, 792 Link Destinations (factor 1:2.05)
386 Prints, 792 Link Destinations (factor 1:2.05)

Converting this data into a network reinforces these patterns. The picture above shows a Force Atlas network for this Cruikshank/Fores corpus. Force Atlas uses a force directed algorithm based on the Fruchterman & Reingold model (1990) to emphasise complementaries. The resulting visualisation shows nodes (derived from place data) and edges (links between specific and generic places), the size of each node linked to the number of different nodes that interacts with it and the size of each edge linked to the frequency of this node-to-node link. Edge direction – the strength with which one node ‘directs’ it’s force at another via an edge – stabilises the shape of the network and gives it relational shape. Colouring is used to denote different ‘partitions’, effectively clusters of nodes and edges which comprise groups. As the model was developed from empirical social science research, the visualisation does not demonstrate abstract mathematics: resultantly nodes do not overlap, subverting the ‘maths’ in preference of emphasising the readability and structure of the network. What the network shows is the significance of the ‘England, London, Urban’ axis to Fores’ business, as well as prints depicting events in France (during and post Revolution). Intriguingly, the specific places around the ‘London’ and ‘Urban’ nodes contrast strikingly with the network surrounding the ‘Rural’ node, with a heavy ‘Rural’ to ‘None’ edge demonstrating a preference for non-specific rural settings. What this suggests is that although Fores sold Cruikshank prints with parliamentary themes akin to Gillray/Humphrey work, he also carried a core of prints which either used the rural as a stage for political drama (No grumbling (1795)), professional controversies (Vaccination against small pox, or mercenary & merciless spreaders of death & devastation driven out of society (1808)), or ridiculing the ageing beau monde (Young Ladies (1795), Young gentlemen in the dress of the year 1798 (1798)).

Distance reading does not however explain why these patterns emerge for prints published by Fores (and indeed the different patterns observable for other publishers, perhaps I’ll blog about this at a later date). This ‘why’ only emerges when we reintroduce a grounded understanding of how making and selling prints shaped their content. I don’t have time to go into making and selling Georgian prints right now (if you want to know more see here), but the international and specific urban locations of Cruikshank/Fores productions suggestion to me a speculative model of publishing: with large (100+) runs of impressions printed from ephemeral designs in order to capitalise on political and society news. Some of this risk associated with large runs was mitigated by Fores’ publishing prints by Isaac Cruikshank which either sought to anticipate or alternatively clung to the coat-tails of Gillray/Humphrey’s productions. Indeed this strategy of Fores mirroring his West End neighbour is striking revealed by a slew of copies of Gillray plates made by Charles Williams for Fores between 1803 and 1806 (see a post at the wonderful The Print Shop Window for more on this phenomenon). Moreover, the aforementioned rural scenes, especially the less ephemeral, mitigated overall business risk by having a long-tail as saleable objects. Yet this 22 year snapshot is unsatisfactory, for as Fores and Cruikshank’s relationship changed over time (in short: close in the 1790s, declined around 1802, reinvigorated by a young George Cruikshank around 1808 until Isaac’s death in 1811) so would the character of the content the former accepted.

Again then we go back to the network graphs of Cruikshank/Fores prints, this time broken down into four chronological chunks (see below). One interesting trend observable from comparing these graphs is the decline in France as a location within – and hence subject of – the prints. I need to cross-reference this against Fores’ total output, but I suspect this suggests that Fores preferred another artist-engraver (perhaps Charles Williams) to report in international affairs at this time. Indeed by the final period (1804-1810) the Cruikshanks work for Fores is focused almost entirely on domestic scenes, exemplified by a slew of prints in 1809 on the Covent Garden Theatre old price riots and Mary Anne Clarke affair. The frequency of ‘Various>Various G[eneric]’ prints in 1794-1798 is explained by a large quantity of work Isaac undertook for Fores after George Woodward containing multiple figures commenting on the issues of the day – see for example Popular Opinions on Public Proceedings (1794). Of course there are other trends here which await careful analysis – on which I welcome any thoughts – but the main point of this work is to emphasise the utility of network graphs for thinking through large amounts of data, how time-specific chunks can help us overcome the tendency of networking analysis to flatten time, and that data raw needs material context to give it meaning.

ICK 1788 1793 161212i

Cruikshank/Fores 1788-1793. Prints 124, Link Destinations 268 (factor 1:2.16)
Cruikshank/Fores 1788-1793. Prints 124, Link Destinations 268 (factor 1:2.16)

ICK 1794 1798 161212i

Cruikshank/Fores 1794-1798. Prints 153, Link Destinations 307 (factor 1:2.01)
Cruikshank/Fores 1794-1798. Prints 153, Link Destinations 307 (factor 1:2.01)

ICK 1799 1803 161212i

Cruikshank/Fores 1799-1803. Prints 44, Link Destinations 89 (factor 1:2.02)
Cruikshank/Fores 1799-1803. Prints 44, Link Destinations 89 (factor 1:2.02)

ICK 1804 1810 161212i

Cruikshank/Fores 1804-1810. Prints 65, Link Destinations 128 (factor 1:2.05)
Cruikshank/Fores 1804-1810. Prints 65, Link Destinations 128 (factor 1:2.05)

6 thoughts on “Week 16: Networking locations depicted in Cruikshank satires”

  1. Fascinating stuff.

    The use of simplified, non-specific, rural landscapes seems to have become more popular in England caricature from the mid-1750s onwards and coincides with the rise of a new, more speculative, business model for producing printed satire that was based around the publication of designs submitted by amateurs. (See George Townsend’s ‘The Recruit Serjeant…’ published by Matthew Darly in 1757). As this approach seems to have been based upon the principle of using diversification as a means of reducing financial risk, it seems reasonable to assume that print runs probably became much smaller but far more frequent in this period. The simplification of designs could therefore be interpreted as a rational commercial response to the pressure that engravers and caricaturists found themselves under to get their into the market quickly and with at a reduced overhead cost.

    Given what we know about the parochial nature of the London publishing trade and the fact that shops dealing in non-satirical imagery made up at least two thirds of London’s printselling outlets, it would also be interesting to see if there were an identifiable links between the appearance of non-descript rural scenery in caricature and the rising popularity of conventional landscape images in other forms of graphic print during this period.

    Your comments about the changing nature of Cruikshank’s relationship with Fores are also interesting. I’m not clear on whether Fores actually preferred Williams work, or whether Williams was brought in to fill Cruikshank’s shoes after the latter had been lured away to begin producing prints for Thomas Tegg? Either way, it appears as though the focus of Cruikshank’s work certainly shifts to the City in the years after 1806 as he seems to have begun working more closely with a number of smaller publishers operating in the streets between the eastern end of the Strand and Cheapside (e.g. Walker, Fairburn, Williamson). It’s difficult to tell whether this occurred as a result of a shift in the commercial balance of power between West End and East End publishers, or whether it was symptomatic of a decline in Cruikshank’s popularity during the final years of his life?

    1. Thanks for your comments.

      It would indeed be interesting to pick through the non-satiric scenes on offer and correlate them with the satiric work. Off the top of my head – non-portraits aside – rural scenes do seem important features of the catalogues and adverts I’ve come across. But more systematic work is needed.

      With regards to Cruikshank/Fores, my hunch – one I’ve been developing recently – is that sometime around 1802-3 Fores became disillusioned with volume of errors Cruikshank had been making (in terms of spelling, re-etched titles, corrections to the design) and presenting to Fores as acceptable work. Hence without a ‘go to’ publisher, Isaac began to seek wider market for his plates, only winning Fores’ trust back sometime around 1807-8.

  2. A rough analysis of the numbers of prints in the BM catalogue would seem to suggest that Fores relationship with Cruikshank may have begun to decline during the late 1790s. There certainly seems to be some correlation between the decrease in the number of prints carrying Cruikshank’s name and the appearance of larger number of plates by Williams after 1797.

    What is perhaps more interesting though is that the numbers also appear to indicate an overall decline in Fores involvement in the publication of caricature after 1800. It is from this point onwards that the number of plates produced per year seems to have dropped significantly (with the average decreasing from 81 designs a year in the 1790s to 63 a year in the following decade) and the type and quality of the prints being published seems to have changed, with far greater emphasis being placed on pirated copies, reissues of older designs purchased from bankrupt publishers (such as Samuel Howitt) and cheaper forms of satire such as the skit note. Even when original designs were commissioned these more often than not tended to be produced by unknown or inexperienced artists such as the juvenile William Heath.

    I must stress that this is all very speculative but it certainly provides some interesting points for thought and further discussion. My personal hunch is that the West End shops found themselves under increasing pressure in the years after 1800 thanks to the rise of a new generation of City publishers such as Tegg, Blacklock, Fairburn, etc but further work is required.

    1. I’d certainly echo your caution, especially with regards to counting surviving impressions – with Fores in particular we just cannot know what has been lost. But your comments on the change in type of Fores’ wares are something I concur with. Further work indeed required.

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