- Museum number
- Object: Political balance- unexpected inspection- or a good old master takeing a peep into the state of things himself.
After the title: 'Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer. Proverbs.' A pair of scales hangs in a landscape, suspended from a hook in a block against the upper margin inscribed 'Constitution', the central pivot inscribed ('Equilibrium'). The left scale is weighted only by a document headed 'Acts for the more effectually Sarving' [sic], on the right scale, inscribed 'Prices of Provisions.', are a leg of mutton, a frothing tankard, and a loaf; it is much outweighed by the other, inscribed 'Old England', which descends below the level of the ground into a rocky pit or 'Abyss of Corruption'. On the ground below the right scale lies a starving and half-naked peasant who raises his arm to touch it, crying, "Oh! I shall famish if you don't fall." The 'Acts' enumerated on the scroll are 'Butter and Cheese Laws 56 G 3d—3d Corn Bill 55th G 3d—-2d Corn Bill 45th G 3d—1st Corn Bill—' A well-dressed man, his hands on his knees, stoops in profile to the left over the descending scale, saying, "How rich I shall get by plundering the Poor, now my old Master is blind and there is no one to watch me." Over his head, and hanging from the beam of the scales is a ribbon inscribed 'Sir Harry Pare-nail'. He is watched by George III who leans from a crenellated tower inscribed 'Windsor', on the extreme left, with his spy-glass to his eye as in No. 10019, &c. He wears a round hat topped by a small crown, and shouts: "Heigh! Heigh! Fellow! pull away those d—d heavy Corn Laws, and Butter and Cheese Laws; let the prices find the level & come within the reach of my distress'd people; I say pull them of directly Fellow, d'ont you see Old England is sunk almost out of sight, you thought I could not see did you Fellow Heigh! Heigh!" A face within a sun dipping behind the skyline sheds tears.
A scale of (corn) prices explains the tilt of the scales by lines intersecting at the pivot, representing the tilt of the beam of the scales, downwards or upwards; the right end is inscribed with the price, the opposite end by a word expressing its result in social conditions. A double line is horizontal at the price of '40s'; this is 'Well Level'. Below this level the slanting lines are progressively (reading downwards): '38s', '36s', '34s', '32'. These are respectively 'Happily' [corresponding to 38s.], 'Comfortaly' [sic], 'Gloriously', 'Princely', at which point, 32s., the 'Prices of Provisions' would rest on the ground (and the agricultural interest be ruined). Above the horizontal level, the lines slanting upwards from left to right are inscribed (reading upwards) '60s', '80s', '100s', '120s', '140s', '160s'; these correspond respectively to 'Inconvenience', 'Distress', 'Want', 'Misery', 'Sarvation' [sic], 'Total Ruin'. The actual level of the beam is a price of 140s., just short of 'Total Ruin'. The pointer of the beam is along a slanting line inscribed 'Adversity'; with a price of 34s. it would point to 'Prosperity'.
Plate numbered 204.
- Production date
Height: 246 millimetres
Width: 350 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- (Description and comment from M. Dorothy George, 'Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires in the British Museum', IX, 1949)
The occasion of the print is the passing of the Butter and Cheese Acts (56 George III, c. 25 and 26), and the rapid rise of the price of corn from an abnormally low level (52s. 6d. in January) to 103s. in December, at a time of industrial distress. A protective duty arising out of the 'distressed state' of the Irish butter trade was carried without dissent, and gave rise to a demand, supported by Ponsonby, leader of the Opposition, for the protection of English cheese, on the ground that the Dutch, driven from the butter trade, would concentrate on cheese. Only one member spoke for the consumer. See Smart, 'Econ. Annals of the Nineteenth Century', 1910, i. 483-6; 'Parl. Deb.' xxxiii. 607, 983-5 (March-April). Parnell did not speak: he is apparently pilloried as a protagonist of the Corn Law of 1815, see No. 12503. The scale of corn prices in the print is weighted heavily against the agricultural interest, which would have been ruined by prices of 405. and under, and the price of corn is far above the highest point of 1816. Cf. No. 12779, &c.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number