Monday, November 17, 2014

Mr Punch, Mr Gladstone And The Scarcity Of Second Hand Bookshops


I was in Liverpool a couple of months ago and happily browsing around that rarest of creatures, an old second-hand bookshop (the kind where books are stacked like firebricks and filed according to some long-forgotten system) when I found a half-bound copy of Punch Magazine dating from 1889. It was half-bound because one of the covers had taken its own, quite separate,  road through life a hundred years or so ago, but its boundless energy resulted in a bargain price of £2 - less than the price of a half-decent pint.

Some times, when the rain is falling and the fog is drifting in, I will dip into my old Punch annual and try to make sense of a political cartoon which is so far past its sell-by date that the joke has turned sepia. This cartoon featuring William Ewart Gladstone is a great example.

In June 1889 Gladstone was Leader of the Opposition and a tireless political campaigner despite having reached the age of 79.  Where others would take long summer holidays, Gladstone would fill his time delivering political speeches in all parts of the country and the cartoon shows Gladstone on a train heading for the West Country and another round of political meetings. At this time in his life, he was becoming more and more radical in his views, flirting almost with an early version of democratic socialism.

One is tempted to look back across the political years and conclude that little has changed. People were making fun of politicians back then, and many of the events of 1889 - aristocrats involved in sex scandals, people demanding a decent living wage, Sheffield Wednesday losing at football - have a degree of familiarity.  Some things do change, however; and not necessarily for the better. A politician prepared to face the people - without a carefully selected audience and a carefully placed autocue - would today be as rare as an empty railway carriage. A Leader of the Opposition who was entering his eighties and still destined to serve a further term as Prime Minister, would today be as unthinkable as a self-penned speech. And a politician who was getting more radical as he got older would today be as hard to find as a decent second-hand bookshop.

11 comments:

  1. This looks like a scene from Alice Through the Looking Glass.
    I'm fairly sure my great grandfather lived at Westward Ho! Such a bizarre name for a place.

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  2. We've just finished watching the first British series of House of Cards. It was all familiar and foreign at the same time. No wonder it spawned an American version.

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  3. Even over here in the USA, I've seen a few old Punch issues. Always loved them!

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  4. The more things change the more they do stay the same--almost. Bar second hand bookshops and good political servants.

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  5. At least we still have political cartoonists. Some of them do a brilliant job.

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  6. Sorry I've not been around much...I'm glad you've been keeping well and traveling a bit. As for pols, I've not seen one I would consider stellar in my fifty-odd years, and now that the world has gone online, I suspect brick and mortar second-hand bookshops are struggling, which is a shame.

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  7. Self penned speech...perhaps bloggers are the only ones that write their own content and opinions anymore:)

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  8. I love second hand book stores! Found a couple of good books over the years. One I paid 1/6d is now worth 40 or 50 pounds. Haven't seen any good second hand book stores over here, but then they probably wouldn't have the kind of books I'm looking for anyway.

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  9. Sharp observations, sir. That's the way to do it - you got it in the bag.

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  10. Great post, Alan, and all the better for your having brought a political nous to bear.

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  11. I think the artist, Mr. Swain?, has depicted a recognizable habit as well as the politician. Lawyers and businessmen of 1889 must have been as notorious for writing while riding in a railway carriage as today's tablet and laptop writers. Gladstone might scribble a letter between stops, drop it into the next platform postbox, and expect it to arrive before he reached his final destination.

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