Preparing for War

George Cruikshank1815

British Museum

British Museum

John Bull, the British taxpayer, is a bull prepared for sacrifice on an altar ‘Sacred to the Bourbon Cause and dedicated to the Downfall of illegitimate Tyranny’. On the cloth across his back is a list of the taxes already introduced to pay for the war. Nicholas Vansittart, Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has a crown in place of a head, wields a poleaxe lettered ‘New War Taxes’; he stands balanced on the tub that will collect John Bull’s blood. Lord Castlereagh, Foreign Secretary, presides over the sacrifice. Lord Liverpool, prime minister, stands to the left of the altar, dressed as a butcher sharpening a large knife.

A barefoot urchin, face concealed, is seated on the ground beside Vansittart’s tub turning its tap so that coins pour out into a large bag on his lap labelled ‘Secret Service’. Beside him twelve other beggar boys line up to receive their shares of the bull’s sacrifice: their bodies are open-mouthed money bags lettered ‘Civil List’, ‘Contractors’, ‘Army’, ‘Navy’ and, on three bags, ‘Subsidys’. On the left the Prince Regent sprawls on his throne while a stay-maker measures him for a corset, a barber trims his whiskers, and Sir John McMahon, Keeper of the Privy Purse, combs his hair.

Behind the altar is a narrow strip of water representing the English Channel beyond which are shown two alternatives for France. On the right, Napoleon is mounted on a snorting charger and the ‘Dogs of War!’ are let loose; on the left, lines of soldiers prepare for war while Louis XVIII, wearing full armour and attended by aged soldiers carrying medicine-bottles, rides a mule with the head of Talleyrand. The king worries about a supply of ‘fleecy hosiery’ and decides, ‘I had better fight my battles over a cool bottle with my friend George.’

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  • Title: Preparing for War
  • Creator: George Cruikshank
  • Date Created: 1815
  • Physical Dimensions: 213 x 503 mm
  • Medium: Hand-coloured etching
  • British Museum website: 1868,0808.12813


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