An Artist’s Catalog: Collier’s Human Passions Delineated

The engraved title page of Collier’s Human Passions Delineated.

Human Passions Delineated in Above 120 Figures, published by John Heywood of Manchester in 1773, is a collection of caricatures and poems by “Tom Bobbin” – the pseudonym of Lancashire author and caricaturist John Collier. Peopled with grotesque characters “Design’d in the Hogarthian Style,” Collier’s prints include a self-portrait of “Bobbin,” 38 small (18.5 x 11 cm) caricatures positioned two to a page, and six full-page caricatures paired with satirical verse. Explanations of the smaller engravings are appended on the final five leaves.

In this attack on the fashions of the well-to-do, Collier depicts a wealthy man trying on a ludicrously pointed wig while a flattering wig maker presumably tells him how well it suits him. Collier ends his later explanation of the image with the hope that such fashions will be short-lived, remembered only by those “Who liv’d in George the Third’s mad fluctuating reign.”

Throughout the volume, Collier unreservedly pokes fun at the failings and foibles of men and women at all levels of society. Among his leering subjects are vomiting drunkards, doctors delighting in the painful extraction of teeth, and wealthy aristocrats flaunting laughably overdrawn fashions (such as towering wigs that do nothing to distract from their pronounced, hairy facial moles). The tone of the images ranges from lightly mocking (as in an illustration of an old woman using her cane as a lever to break up her granddaughter’s would-be tryst) to bitingly satirical. Some of Collier’s harshest critiques are reserved for hypocritical clergymen, and he dedicates a full-page caricature and an entire leaf of text to attacking pluralists (priests who took livings in multiple parishes, then notoriously underpaid the curates hired to preach in their place). He clearly also has a bone to pick with the printers who pirated “Bobbin’s” first and most successful work, A View of the Lancashire Dialect (1746). In a memorable caricature/verse pairing titled “Fratres in Malo,” Collier attacks the offenders by name and fantasizes about a future in which they must labor as “Chaise Horses sweating in bad roads / Whipp’d hard by Authors, and prick’d on by Goads.”

A broadside skewering pirating printers who have reduced “Bobbin” to poverty. (In reality, Collier’s money troubles had just as much to do with a habit of eating and drinking his income.)

Interestingly, Human Passions Delineated was printed to be a kind of catalog of the author’s artistic wares. While Collier held traditional jobs throughout his life (he was school-master in his hometown and, briefly, clerk of a woolen textile manufactory), he became increasingly focused on expanding his side-trade as a sign-painter and caricaturist. The publication of this “Book of Heads,” which readers could purchase as a bound volume or by the leaf, was a clever bit of self-promotion, and served to advertise Collier’s talents to publicans and other potential clients throughout the north of England.

A portrait of “Tim Bobbin” (really John Collier).

If Collier’s somewhat crass style is not to your taste, Human Passions Delineated still has much to offer. His illustrations are infused with references to contemporary politics, social stratification, and church politics, as well as with subtle plugs for the author’s other works, which appear as books drawn into the images. As a side effect of the subjects’ wandering hands and immoral behaviors, we are given insight into the workings of eighteenth-century clothing, from how men’s wigs were affixed to how corsets were laced and petticoats were designed to allow access to pockets worn beneath.  Material culture (such as the gentleman’s standard equipage of long, thin-stemmed pipes, snuff boxes, quills, and ceramic drinking vessels) is depicted in fine detail. The layers of meaning and historical evidence packed into this deceptively slim volume are rife for explication, and I encourage you to visit Rare Books yourself to peel them away – or just to get a good chuckle.

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Jess Touchette

About Jess Touchette

Jess Touchette is a former staff member in the Rare Books unit.

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