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'The Praise of Blacking': William Frederick Deacon's Warreniana and Early Nineteenth-century Advertising-related Parody  [*]

  • John Strachan

…plus d’informations

  • John Strachan
    University of Sunderland

Corps de l’article

February 1824 saw the anonymous publication, by the London publishers Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, of Warreniana; with Notes, Critical and Explanatory, by the Editor of a Quarterly Review. The book purported to contain ringing endorsements of the well-known manufacturer of blacking (i.e. boot polish), Robert Warren, by many of the leading literary figures (Byron, Coleridge, Scott and Wordsworth amongst them) and journals (Blackwood's, John Bull, the New Monthly) of the day. It was the work of the precocious twenty-four year old London journalist William Frederick Deacon. The book offers a series of agile and vivacious parodies of a wide range of Romantic period writing: poetry, essays, literary and political journalism, historiography, sermons, parliamentary reports and scholarship and yet, for reasons which I shall discuss below, it has been neglected, ignored even by historians of Romantic parody. My recent edition for Pickering and Chatto sees the first publication of the book since 1851 and is the first scholarly and annotated edition.  [1]Warreniana is an enormously engaging and enjoyable collection. This essay offers an account of the work and sets it in its contexts of early nineteenth-century advertising and post-Napoleonic advertising- and advertising-related parody and satire. It concludes with a consideration of the importance of Warreniana and a discussion of the book's parodic methodology and social resonance.

William Frederick Deacon (1799-1845) was the first child of six born to a fairly prosperous London merchant. After Reading School, Deacon studied at St Catharine Hall, Cambridge. However, his studies at Cambridge seem to have been desultory and he left the university without a degree but with a poem written during his time at college: 'Hacho; or the Spell of St. Wilten', an imitation of Sir Walter Scott's romantic and medievalist poetry. It was published in his first collection, Hacho; or the Spell of Saint Wilten, and other Poems (1819). The imitative nature of the volume is summed up well in the Gentleman's Magazine's one-line review: 'Pleasing Verses in the manner of Scott and Byron'.  [2] Deacon's new career as a man of letters had begun. In 1820 and 1821 he was publishing extensively in Gold and Northhouse's London Magazine and Monthly Critical and Dramatic Review [3] and between 21 October and 15 December 1820, he also edited and wrote almost all of a lively and highly eccentric daily paper, The Déjeuné, or Companion for the Breakfast Table. Unsurprisingly, this latter, rather demanding venture soon folded, and in 1821 Gold's London itself was bought out by Robert Baldwin of the rival London Magazine. However, some of the parodic material published in Gold's was worked up as part of Deacon's masterpiece, Warreniana.

Deacon was the son of a merchant, a voracious reader and reviewer of contemporary literature, and, from a comparatively young age, a literary journalist and newspaper man. All of these biographical facts inform Warreniana, a compendious parodic survey of contemporary writing which imagines a world where the leading writers of the day become hirelings of Robert Warren. The book was generally well-received and there were several positive reviews. The Monthly Review praised the 'considerable vivacity and success'  [4] of the volume, whilst the London Literary Gazette labelled it a 'cleverly done'  [5] jeu d'esprit and quoted admiringly from the Coleridge and the Byron parodies. Though it lamented, entirely predictably, the acerbic handling of Gifford, the British Critic published a long and eulogistic notice,  [6] commending the 'excellence' of the Moore, Scott and John Bull parodies and quoting at some length from the Coleridge. Warreniana has received little attention in more recent criticism. One of the tiny number of twentieth-century critics to have mentioned the book is Ian Jack, who wrote in 1963 that Warreniana 'is a volume of considerable interest to the literary historian, and deserves better than to be neglected': 'This collection of poems in praise of Warren's Patent Blacking is supposed to be edited by Gifford, the graceless pomposity of whose style is mirrored in the preface and other supplementary matter ... some of the parodies are excellently done (those of Barry Cornwall and Moore, for example), while the Coleridge - "The Dream, A Psychological Curiosity" - is in parts quite admirable'.  [7] However, despite the volume's parodic attention to some of the most notable figures of the Romantic period, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Hunt, Moore, Scott, Southey and - the biters bit - Byron, Hogg and James Smith, Professor Jack's hint has not been taken up. I would argue that there are particular reasons for this critical neglect, which is not attributable to the quality or artistry of Deacon's parodies, which at their best rival those of Hogg, but is a consequence of the framing device of the book.

Appreciation of Warreniana has been hampered by its comic dependence upon a knowledge of a series of now-forgotten advertisements - very well known in their day - for Warren's blacking. The basic conceit of Warreniana is that the manufacturer of polishes, Robert Warren, has hired a clutch of eminent writers to promote, or 'puff', his product. A modern day equivalent might envisage a well-advertised consumer product familiar to the contemporary English public, say Persil washing powder, being endorsed by a group of distinguished poets and prose writers. Take such an imaginary notion and project it forward over 170 years to an era where the product no longer exists and its commercial campaigns are mere footnotes in histories of advertising, and one begins to understand why Warreniana has not yet received the attention given to other Romantic period parody. By the 1870s, Warren's company had disappeared, taking with it the cultural underpinning of Warreniana.

From his premises in the Strand, Robert Warren ran one of the most successful businesses of his day. To quote from Warren's own copy, his blacking was 'sold by most Venders of Blacking in every Town in the Kingdom, in Pots, 6d. 12d. and 18d. each'. Large fortunes were to be made in this business and the manufacturer Charles Day, of Warren's rivals Day & Martin, accumulated the enormous sum of £450,000 from the trade by the mid-1830s.  [8] The success of such companies was heavily dependent upon their advertising and historians of advertising have long acknowledged that the most visible campaign of the early nineteenth century was for Warren's blacking (or 'jet' or 'japan' as it was also called). Warren's ran a series of ground-breaking campaigns in favour of its product, extolling it in a nationwide series of newspaper advertisements, puffing it in handbills, saluting it in advertisements painted on the side of metropolitan buildings and praising it in letters two feet high daubed on fences at the road side in the country. As the poet Thomas Hood notes in his February 1825 London Magazine article 'The Art of Advertising made Easy', Warren's 'name [was] whitewashed ... upon the walls of the metropolis and the Park-palings of the country'.  [9] Sandwich men carried Warren's placards and advertising vehicles trawled the streets hailing the quality of his 'brilliant jet'. For Hood, Warren is amongst the 'best advertisement writers' and he praises the 'variety, brilliancy and country circulation' of his puffs. Warren can be said to have followed almost to the letter the jocular prescription for advertising success summed up in 'Advertising considered as an art', published in Chambers' Edinburgh Journal in 1844:

He, therefore, who can make himself most notorious, is the best advertiser; he, in short, who takes care that you shall not open a public print without his own name and that of his wares staring you full in the face; nay, more; if you go out into the street, that the same words shall meet you at every turn. Men, looking like animated sandwiches - squeezed in as they are between two boards, conspicuously inscribed with huge invitations to 'Try Pott's pills' - slowly parade the streets. If you turn to look at the progress of a new building, you will see the boarding covered with 'Potts's pills' ... In short, you seem condemned to be perpetually taking oracular doses of Potts's pills, till you are as familiar with the name of Potts as you are with that of Newton or of Shakspeare. What is your case is nearly everybody's; and the name of Potts becomes famous throughout the empire. Thus it is that many men whose humble occupations would, without the art of advertising, have condemned them to the darkest obscurity, have become notorious, if not celebrated.  [10]

Even in the 1840s, a blacking company remains the supreme example of the art of advertising: 'No one can deny that the names of those very respectable blacking-makers of High Holborn, Messrs Day and Martin, are quite as well known to the public at large as Scott of Abbotsford, and Wellington of Waterloo. Such are amongst the glories of advertising, when that art is vigorously carried out!'.  [11]

Though the comically inappropriate notion of the likes of Samuel Taylor Coleridge panegyrising shoe polish provides much of the humour in Warreniana, any other equally mundane but well-advertised product of the early nineteenth century, for instance Packwood's razor strops  [12] or Doctor Solomon's patent medicine, the 'Cordial Balm of Gilead', would have provided a parodist with the opportunity to play the same games with literary register. I would argue that Deacon chose Warren because his product was, famously, advertised using verse. Warren was one of the pioneers of 'jingle' advertisements and his verse puffs, with their striking cuts, were well known in the period. In Warren's 'Juliet' advertisement, for example (figure 1), Shakespeare becomes grist to the blacking mill. In Warren's jocular 'Queen' advertisement (figure 2), published in the 1810s, the poet responsible for the doggerel verse is unknown, but, as with 'Juliet', the illustration is again by no less a figure than George Cruikshank, who along with Gillray and Rowlandson, was one of the major English satirical artists of the period. Warren's were not above a little comic imitation themselves. Figure 3 shows Cruikshank's design, drawn when he was fourteen years old, for the 1807 chap-book Mother Goose, which was intended to cash in on the massive success of the 1806 Covent Garden pantomime Harlequin and Mother Goose, or, The Golden Egg. Cruikshank later adapted his own image for the illustration to the Warren advert, 'Mother Goose' (figure 4).

Figure 1

'Juliet'; advertisement for Warren's blacking (n.d.).

Illustration by George Cruikshank.

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Figure 2

'Queen'; advertisement for Warren's blacking (n.d.).

Illustration by George Cruikshank.

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Figure 3

'Mother Goose' (1807).

Chap-book illustration by George Cruikshank.

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Figure 4

'Mother Goose' (n.d.); advertisement for Warren's blacking.

Illustration by George Cruikshank.

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In his 1929 study The History and Development of Advertising, Frank Presbrey labels Warren's newspaper copy 'a milestone in English advertising' for its use of humorous poetry and illustration.  [13] As E. S. Turner notes in his The Shocking History of Advertising! (1952), 'Robert Warren ... is generally supposed to have marketed the first nationally advertised product, Warren's Shoe Blacking, which was launched on a sea of poetry'.  [14] Warren's wife put it more succinctly, in a splendidly ungrammatical and Dickensian phrase: 'We keeps a poet'.  [15] Writing in the Westminster Review in 1824, John Hamilton Reynolds commented upon the unorthodox company which the muse had recently been keeping: poetry 'was glad to perch wherever she was able, and in her bewildered state, as a scared pigeon flies down a lawyer's chimney, or a lark drops into a Strand watch-box, she dashed into Warren's blacking manufactory, as a sanctuary, and dipping her wing in an eighteen-penny bottle, took up the cause of boots and shoes. Thus lowered in her own and other's estimation, she sat awhile in a solitude of brilliant jet'.  [16]

Warren's was not the only firm to use poetry in its puffs. Its competitors, Day and Martin the most notable, began to use verse. In Warreniana, these companies become the iniquitous rivals which are seen off by the lustrous products of 'Warren's, 30 Strand'. One gets a sense of how common blacking copy was in Canto XVI of Byron's Don Juan, where Juan picks up a London paper:

he took up an old newspaper;
The paper was right easy to peruse;
He read an article the king attacking,
And a long eulogy of 'Patent Blacking.'  [17]

Byron himself was accused of composing blacking puffs. In the 'Appendix' to The Two Foscari (1821), he writes: 'Whilst I have been occupied in defending Pope's character, the lower orders of Grub-street appear to have been assailing mine: ... One of the accusations in the nameless epistle alluded to is still more laughable: it states seriously that I "received five hundred pounds for writing advertisements for Day and Martin's patent blacking!". This is the highest compliment to my literary powers which I ever received'.  [18] Perhaps this incident provided Deacon with the inspiration for Warreniana. Certainly he refers to it in the volume's parodic epigraph ('I have even been accused of writing Puffs for Warren's Blacking. LORD BYRON'). After the noble poet's death, Mrs Warren claimed that Byron had indeed written for the firm. The Edinburgh Review, which devoted much of its February 1843 issue to a long article on 'The Advertising System', reports the story thus:

it is remarkable how ingeniously the style of address [in advertisements] has been adapted to the taste or fashion of the hour. When Scott, Byron, Moore, Rogers, Wordsworth, Southey &c., were in their zenith, ... the most attractive vehicle was verse, and the praises of blacking were sung in strains which would have done no disservice to 'Childe Harold' himself, even in his own opinion -for when accused of receiving six hundred a-year for his services as Poet-Laureat to Mrs. Warren,- of being, in short, the actual personage alluded to in her famous boast, 'We keeps a poet' -he showed no anxiety to repudiate the charge. The present, however, is an unpoetic age [which] decidedly prefers prose to poetry; ... 'The Excursion' ... has no chance at all against the 'Pickwick Papers' or 'Oliver Twist.'  [19]

In the age of Dickens, prose replaces poetry as the copywriter's modus operandi. Nonetheless, two years earlier Dickens himself had introduced a rather less exalted purveyor of blacking copy in the figure of The Old Curiosity Shop's Mr Slum, who clutches an all-purpose poetical acrostic ('the name at this moment is Warren, but the idea's a convertible one'): 'it's the delight of my life to have dabbled in poetry, ... Ask the perfumers, ask the blacking-makers, ask the hatters, ask the old lottery-office-keepers -ask any man among 'em what my poetry has done for him, and mark my words, he blesses the name of Slum'.  [20] Dickens himself, of course, had first-hand experience of the blacking trade, having toiled as a young man in the blacking factory which produced blacking in the name of Jonathan Warren of 30, Hungerford Stairs, Strand (a firm which itself was imitative, set up to trade on the Warren name made famous by Robert, of 30, Strand). The firm of Jonathan Warren also employed poets and John Forster, Dickens' biographer, states that it was one of these dignitaries who inspired the portrayal of Mr Slum.  [21]

By far the most famous of Warren's advertisements is a puff which is common around 1820, 'The Cat and the Boot; or, An Improvement upon Mirrors' (figure 5). The illustration, again by Cruikshank, shows a cat spitting at a boot. The hapless feline has been alarmed by his reflection in the brilliant lustre of the garment, which, of course, is polished by the good offices of the 'Easy Shining and Brilliant BLACKING, Prepared by Robert Warren, 30, STRAND'. In the modern context of multimedia advertisements, when one sees this frequently smudged, monochrome advertisement in yellowing Georgian periodicals, it is hard to appreciate its striking effect. Nonetheless, this was the most famous advertising image of its day. It employed most of the eighteenth-century conventions evident within text-only copy (capitalisation, italicisation, small caps, varied dividing lines and the hand), adding some of the innovations made possible by the increasing use of display: a large trade-mark (only recently possible) and, most importantly, a memorable illustration (cuts were still relatively rare in weekly papers and almost unheard of in London dailies). All of this was complemented by jovial light verse, replete with almost Byronically humorous double rhymes ('dash on'/'fashion'), offering a memorable comic narrative. The puff spawned several imitations, including a notable piece of illiterate tomfoolery for the north-eastern firm of Donnison's which dates from the late 1830s (figure 6).

Figure 5

'The Cat and the Boot; or, An Improvement upon Mirrors' (c.1820); advertisement for Warren's blacking.

Illustration by George Cruikshank.

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Figure 6

Advertisement for Donnison's, 'the only surperlative [sic] blacking' (1839).

Artist unknown.

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As well as influencing a generation of poetastic copywriters, Warren's drolleries quickly inspired contemporary humourists and certainly Deacon was not the first to make sport of blacking puffs. In his 'Parody of a Celebrated Letter', Thomas Moore puts these wistful words into the mouth of the deeply unpopular Prince Regent:

When such are my merits (you know I hate cracking),
I hope, like the Vendor of Best Patent Blacking,
'To meet with the gen'rous and kind approbation
Of a candid, enlighten'd and liberal nation'  [22]

During the 1820s, parodists and satirists used advertising copy for blacking as the basis for their own wit. Warreniana should be read as only one of a series of blacking-related comic works. For instance, in Robert Montgomery's The Puffiad (1828), which is mostly devoted to a long, Popean satire on the publishing business, we find 'The Japan-Blacking Man. A Parody':

Not far from Charing Cross, 'tis said,
One Warren, in the Blacking trade,
Makes it on so good a plan,
That he is called the Blacking-man;
The real Japan, Jet Blacking-man,
The brilliant, dazzling Blacking-man!
No one has yet, or ever can,
Surpass this far-fam'd Blacking-man.
At No. 30 in the Strand,
The shop's well known, and close at hand,
It is the place for the real Japan,
Made by the Jet-Black Blacking-man,
The famous well-known Blacking-man,
The not-to-be-equalled Blacking-man, -
No one has yet, or ever can,
Outshine the brilliant Blacking-man.  [23]

This is rather feeble stuff. Much better is Horace Smith's 'Laus Atramenti, or the Praise of Blacking. A New Song', published in the New Monthly Magazine in November 1824, which describes Oxford and Cambridge undergraduates giving up their classical education and devoting themselves to the sale of blacking:

Our Sires were such pedagogue blockheads of yore,
That they sent us to college instruction to seek,
Where we bother'd our brains with pedantical lore,
Law, logic, and algebra, Latin and Greek;
But now, wiser grown, leaving learning alone,
And resolving to shine by a light of our own,
Our cares we transfer from the head to the foot,
Leave the brain to be muddied, and polish the boot.
On the banks of the Isis, ye classical fools!
Who with Lycophron's crabbedness puzzle your ear,
And ye who learn logarithmetical rules
At Cambridge, from tables of Baron Napier,
Renounce Aristotle, and take to the bottle,
That wears 'Patent Blacking', inscribed on its throttle;
For Napier and Greek are by few understood,
While all can decide when your blacking is good.  [24]

Classical values and scholarship are of little use in contemporary mercantile society. Smith concludes by offering a vision of prosperous merchants engaged in 'blacking wars' and resolves to join the mercenary throng of boot polishers:

Day and Martin now laugh as they ride in their coach,
Till they're black in the face as their customers' boots;
Warren swears that his blacking's beyond all approach,
Which Turner's advertisement plumply refutes;
They hector and huff, print, publish, and puff,
And write in the papers ridiculous stuff,
While Hunt, who was blacken'd by all, and run down,
Takes a thriving revenge as he blackens the town.
Their labels belibel each other -each wall
With the feuds of these rivals in blacking is white;
But the high polished town seems to patronise all,
And the parties get rich in each other's despite;
For my own part I think, I shall mix up my ink,
In a bottle with lamp-black and beer to the brink,
And set up at once for a shiner of shoes,
Since I never shall shine by the aid of the Muse.  [25]

Deacon himself describes 'the feuds of these rivals in blacking', most notably in his Scott parody, 'The Battle of Brentford Green'. However, unlike Smith, he does not avail himself of the useful pun on 'blacking' in the sense of denigrating another's reputation. Blacking in this sense is one of the key rhetorical strategies of satire and Blackwood's is alert to this fact in the fourth of its Noctes Ambrosianae series (published in July 1822), where Odoherty (i.e. William Maginn) encounters Byron:

ODOHERTY.
Style -as to style, that is all fudge. I myself have written in all kind of styles, from Burke to Jeremy Bentham. But I assure your Lordship the mob charge you with these Memoirs.
BYRON.
Why, really some people believe me capable of any kind of stuff. You remember I was accused of writing puffs for Day and Martin.
ODOHERTY.
A calumny, I know, my dear Byron, for I am myself author of them. By the way, have you heard the epigram on your disclaimer?
BYRON.
No- tell it me -I hope it is good.
ODOHERTY.
You shall judge.

ON READING THE APPENDIX TO LORD BYRON'S TRAGEDY OF THE TWO FOSCARI.

Is Byron surprised that his enemies say
He makes puffing verses for Martin and Day?
Why, what other task could his Lordship take part in
More fit than the service of Day, and of Martin?
So shining, so dark -all his writing displays
A type of this liquid of Martin and Day's-
Gouvernantes -Kings -laurel-crown'd Poets attacking -
Oh! he's master complete of the science of Blacking!  [26]

Maginn's squib is not unperceptive; Don Juan and The Vision of Judgment are examples of the dark but powerfully satirical 'science of blacking'.

Though Warreniana is not advertising parody as such, it does have links to the genre, which had recently been employed to great effect by the radical parodist William Hone.  [27] In 1821, Hone and Cruikshank, the quondam purveyor of cuts for Warren's blacking, collaborated on A Slap at Slop, a newspaper parody which attacked John Stoddart's reactionary New Times ('Dr Slop' was Hone's nickname for Stoddart). Like many of the newspapers of the day, it carried advertisements on its front page. One of these parodic puffs sees Cruikshank adapts his original 'Cat and the Boot' design for Warren's blacking to accompany Hone's scathing attack on a Tory aspirant to the judiciary, the fortuitously named Charles Warren (figure 7). 'WARREN'S BLACK-RAT BLACKING' shows the hapless Warren as a rat perched on a piece of Cheshire cheese looking at a boot and seeing reflected back a vision of himself as a judge. In Warren's 'Mother Goose', Cruikshank had adapted a chap-book design into an advertising cut; here he parodies his own puff whilst Hone captures the typographic devices of Warren's copy (the use of bold type, capitalisation and italics). So here we have advertising parody which uses a Warren advertisement to make its point. It is possible that Deacon's own particular form of advertising-related parody, which makes the same contextual gesture, may have been influenced, at least in part, by the example provided by Hone. Whereas Cruikshank and Deacon are linked by their parodic attention to the great manufacturer, Hone and Deacon have a more personal connection as the former was the publisher of the latter's first book, Hacho. It is clear that Hone knew and patronised Deacon and it is likely that the elder parodist influenced the younger. Either way, both use Warren's advertising copy to parodic effect. This is not to imply that Deacon's work is radical parody; even though it has comparatively hard things to say about the ultra-Tories Gifford and Southey, Warreniana is not in general explicitly partisan.

Figure 7

William Hone and George Cruikshank, 'WARREN'S BLACK-RAT BLACKING', parodic advertisement from A Slap at Slop.

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Though Deacon's work is in one sense innovative, in that it shares Hone's attention both to journalism and to contemporary developments in advertising, its basic parodic procedure looks back to early eighteenth-century models. Most notably, Warreniana employs many of the techniques of English mock-heroic and in particular that form of the genre used to great effect in John Philips' The Splendid Shilling (1701). Whereas Pope's brand of mock-heroic attends to the formal devices of epic, Philips's employs idiomatic parody (of Miltonic blank verse) and Warreniana is a sustained exercise in such burlesque. Deacon catches the manner of a remarkably wide variety of contemporary literature: from the able mimicry of Byron's censorious pen to the supernatural grotesquerie of Coleridge; from the historical writing of Charles Mills and the language of parliamentary reports to the acerbic scholarship of Gifford. In many of these parodies, we see an ostensibly 'low' subject matter, boot polish, addressed in discourses which employ stylistic and formal devices that are aesthetically 'high'. The ornate fustian of the Reverend Edward Irving is employed to celebrate Warren:

But yet amid the sins and the snares and the sneers of this stiffnecked shameless generation, there is one man who hath eschewed the cud of iniquity like a cow, and, addressing himself to a godlike life of science, hath dwelt alone amid the crowded chaos of the Strand, like some bashful blossom in the wilderness. And he hath been rewarded with many new scientific discoveries, for behold he hath made, in the stillness of his retreat, divers tuns of precious black liquid, the which he hath put forth in comely stone bottles.

pp. 198-9

Southey's ungainly hexameters praise him in hymn: "But not unto Britain alone is thy fame, Robert Warren, confined: o'er / The civilised regions of Europe, believe me, 'tis equally honoured;" (p. 67). And Scott offers his 'meed / Of laudatory rhymes':

Enough for me on summer day,
To pipe some simple oaten lay,
Of goblin page or border fray,
To rove in thought through Teviotdale,
Where Melrose wanes a ruin pale,
(The sight and sense with awe attacking,)
Or skim Loch Kattrine's burnished flood,
Or wade through Grampian moor and mud,
In boots baptized with WARREN'S BLACKING.

p. 174

Much of the comedy in Warreniana derives from this basic mismatch between style and subject. Take 'Old Cumberland Pedlar', Deacon's parody of The Excursion. Here Wordsworth's 'Wanderer', a rather metaphysically inclined former pedlar, is transformed into a kind of Lake District wall-chalker (i.e., to borrow 'a definition from the Dictionary of the Turf (1823) by 'John Bee', one of those 'fellows who ... scrawl balderdash upon garden walls ... Others chalk up their trades - as "try Warren's blacking"'). Deacon's pedlar is a retired agent for Warren's blacking who still puffs his former employer in lapidary tribute. Here we see devices which are common in Warreniana, notably comic anticlimax and, most importantly, incongruity between style and subject:

It chanced one summer morn I passed the clefts
Of Silver-How, and turning to the left,
Fast by the blacksmith's shop, two doors beyond
Old Stubb's, the tart-woman's, approached a glen
Secluded as a coy nun from the world.
Beauteous it was but lonesome, and while I
Leaped up for joy to think that earth was good
And lusty in her boyhood, I beheld
Graven on the tawny rock these magic words,
"BUY WARREN'S BLACKING;"

p. 28

Given that advertising is often dependent upon the rhetorical elevation of the mundane, the use of the mock-heroic is highly appropriate. Indeed, 'puffing' itself involves the notion of oratorical inflation. In an 1823 passage which combines awareness of the linguistic techniques of advertising with the ritual baiting of Hazlitt, Blackwood's describes this tendency: 'that prevailing fashion, in virtue whereof the new tooth-powder is announced as dentifrice, the new pimple-wash as Kalydor, the new long-coach as dodecahedron, and the new smutty chap-book, as Liber Amoris'.  [28]

Deacon's work also owes something to the tradition of what one might call ad rem parody, which is generally supposed to have been initiated by Isaac Hawkins Browne the elder's A Pipe of Tobacco, in Imitation of Six Several Authors (1736), where a series of authors ostensibly write on the same theme. From Browne onwards, the subjects chosen are generally humdrum in order to enhance the comic possibilities of the parody. This is, of course, the methodology utilised so successfully, at least in terms of popularity, by James and Horace Smith's Rejected Addresses, or The New Theatrum Poetarum (1812) and contemporary reviewers of Warreniana linked the work with that of the Smiths, the London Literary Gazette labelling it 'a merry jeu d'espirit after the manner of the Rejected Addresses'.  [29] George Kitchin, in the only reference to Warreniana in his A Survey of Burlesque and Parody in English (1931), labels the book 'the best'  [30] of the numerous parodic collections inspired by the brothers Smith's work. To my mind, however, Deacon supersedes his immediate model. With the possible exception of Byron, when the parodists mine the same sources (Coleridge, Moore, Scott, Southey, Wordsworth), Deacon systematically triumphs over the Smiths. Certainly, there are no poetical parodies in the Rejected Addresses to rival Deacon's 'The Dream', the two parts of which form one of the finest Coleridgean parodies. The 'Advertisement to the Reader' mocks the opacity of Coleridge's philosophical prose; 'S.T.C.' is an incomprehensible metaphysician who delivers a piece of Kantian obscurantism and then asks 'To such simple and satisfactory reasoning what answer can be made?'. The 'Advertisement' also parodies Coleridge's famous 'On the Fragment of "Kubla Khan"' (1816), which details the supposed origins of that poem in a 'sleep (at least of the external senses)'. Instead of reading about Kubla Khan's 'palace', Deacon's Coleridge has been poring over a report of a boxing match, prompting him into composing a marvelously sustained poetical account of a pugilistic contest between Warren and Satan, called to decide which of Warren's blacking and the waters of the Styx is the darkest. Throughout the poem, the structural parodic device of the comic misapplication of grotesquery is used to great effect:

Then trumpet, and timbrel, and deafening shout,
Like wind through a ruin rung lustily out,
High o'er the rocks that jut over the deep,
Where the souls of the damned to eternity weep;
Echo threw forward her answer of fear,
Dull as the dust that clanks over a bier,
Or death-watch that beats in a sick man's ear,
From the gulph where they howl to the lead-colored night,
The shadowless spectres leaped up with delight,
And "Buy Warren's Blacking" they shouted aloud,
As the night-wind sighs through a coffinless shroud.

pp. 126-7

In a splendid piece of opportunistic advertising, Warren's used a truncated version of 'The Dream' in a handbill which dates from around 1830, 'Warreniana; A Tale, after the manner of the "Rejected Addresses"'. Deacon must have enjoyed the irony in the realisation of his conceit; here 'Coleridge' does indeed advertise Warren's blacking.

As is evident from 'The Dream', Deacon is much concerned with the social epiphenomena of contemporary life and Warreniana might be said to offer a parodic vade mecum to late Georgian culture. His text is peppered with references to the fashionable metropolitan preoccupations of a society only recently released from over twenty years of war (dancing at Almack's, the pleasures of the fancy, lotteries, hot air ballooning, Vauxhall Gardens, Drury Lane entertainments, the burletta theatres) and the popular sensations of London life (the preaching of Edward Irving, the vogue for Pierce Egan's Life in London). And as in Life in London, to which the text often refers, the noisy, active metropolis itself is one of Warreniana's main concerns. From the cross-London voyage of 'The Childe's Pilgrimage' to 'The Battle of Brentford Green', we see a London, to use Dickens' phrase, 'instinct with life and occupation'. Deacon's attention to advertising culture facilitates an examination of metropolitan society at large. For him, as for the Edinburgh, 'Advertisements constitute a class of composition intimately connected with the arts and sciences, and peculiarly calculated to illustrate the domestic habits of a people'.  [31]

Late Georgian England is a richer and more colourful place than is often recognised. The great literary figures of Warreniana rub shoulders with an extraordinary and fascinating cast of characters: Egan, the 'regius professor of Pugilism', phrenologists Gall and Spurzheim, Doctor Solomon, the purveyor of quack medicines, Lord Portsmouth, whose scandalous divorce case captivated society in the early 1820s, the faith healer Hohenlohe, Olivia Serres, self-styled 'Princess of Cumberland', 'Romeo' Coates the famously inept actor and, providing a running comic leitmotif, the corpulent bon-vivant and Tory M.P., Sir William Curtis. With Robert Warren towering above them, these personages reflect the quotidian spirit of the age, providing an alternative human context of the notorious and the ephemeral to the literary, political and intellectual company assembled in Hazlitt's The Spirit of the Age.

Appropriately enough for a text where the éminence grise (or, more accurately, éminence noir) is a manufacturer of boot polish, Warreniana is much preoccupied with contemporary sartorial trends and consumer culture. As well as addressing the various blacking firms (Warren's, Turner's, Day and Martin's) whose quarrels inform the work, Deacon often dwells upon the clothes of the day and their manufacturers (the bootmaker Hoby, the tailor Stultz). Fashion and its commercialisation is a central preoccupation of Warreniana. And if not, to use Carlyle's phrase in Sartor Resartus, a 'philosophy of clothes', Warreniana is fascinated by the details of voguish male attire: the competing attractions of Hessians and Wellingtons, the dress code at Almack's, the sartorial innovations of the Regency dandy Lord Petersham. Take the description of the fashionable Hottentot buck in the excellent parody of Hogg's 'Kilmeny', where each feature complements the sound sartorial platform provided by boots polished by the good offices of Warren's blacking:

The Cape it was peopled wi' city and town,
The Hottentots adepts in fashion were grown;
And bucks frae the Nile wi' braw coats on their backs,
And douce inexpressibles lengthy and lax,
Like those whilk o'night may be seen at Almack's;
Through the towns o' the Cape strutted deftly alang,
...
The tradesman beheld a' these dandy adults,
Wi' their hessians of Hoby and trowsers of Stultz,
And knew that his blacking, more black than the berry,
Lent grace to the boots of each Cape Tom and Jerry.

p. 38

'The Triumph of Warren', a parody of Chauncy Hare Townshend, also captures this aspect of the text well:

Thrice honoured age of churches and of quacks,
Of Scotch orations, Liston, and Almack's:
Each summer gale or winter blast that roars,
Puffs some new folly to thy guileless shores:
See, graced by fashion, Petersham's cravats,
Hoby's spring boots, and Dando's dandy hats;

p. 76

Though this poem has formal affinities with eighteenth-century satire, this is not a Johnsonian attack on empty and vulgar materialism. Even when Deacon momentarily adopts the tone of anti-luxurious satire, he ironizes it in the celebration of the manufacturer Warren, who is portrayed as standing above an age given to the slavish adoption of each successive fashion and the consumption of products promoted by relentless 'puffs' and 'quackery'. Deacon is no stern moralist. Neither does he share the sour tone evident in contemporary anti-consumerist satire such as Robert Montgomery's The Age Reviewed (1828) with its antipathy to dandies ('these scented mongrels') and money-lenders ('Jew-dogs'). Montgomery attacks a world 'where Fashion sits the queen', utilising more intemperate canine figures of speech: 'Thus, Fashion dupes her addle-headed slaves,/Until, like dogs, they shrivel to their graves'.  [32] There is nothing of this debased, or any other kind of Juvenalianism in Deacon. Though he is not blind to its ironies, Deacon has a sneaking regard for mercantile culture and finds the appurtenances of fashionable life engaging and entertainingly various.

In general, Warreniana's parody is good-natured; there is an absence of ferocious debunking in Deacon's work. As the British Critic noted, much of Warreniana demonstrates a 'good-humoured ... spirit'.  [33] However, Deacon does not shy away from critical judgment. Edward Irving's empty rhetoric is effectively nailed, the infelicitous style of 'Barry Cornwall' rebuked. Though Coleridge's poetry is admiringly treated, his philosophical obscurantism is lampooned.

There are, however, limits to Deacon's critical charity. In particular, the Tories Gifford (portrayed as a toadying sycophant to the rich and powerful) and Southey are criticised. The tergiversatory Southey, like one of Warren's copy-writing poetasters, furnishes puffs on demand:

For I am the bard of time, the puffer of peer or of peasant,
Whether Russ, German, or French, Whig, Radical, Ultra, or Tory,
Provided my sack-butt is paid with a butt of sack for each bouncer.

p. 68

Southey excepted, Deacon prefers the 'lakers' to the 'Cockneys'. Perhaps inevitably for a contributor to Gold's London and for an enthusiastic and highly attentive reader of Blackwood's, Deacon finds Maga's line on Hunt comically irresistible, though, significantly, he voids it of its venom. Procter, who was commonly linked with Hunt at the time, is attacked on the entirely justifiable formal grounds of his stylistic inelegances.

Some of the volume's highlights are to be found in the 'Appendix': the astute parody of Moore's 'Little' poems, Irving's wonderfully comic 'Oration' and Cockney bucolicism in excelsis in 'The Apotheosis of Warren, a Pastoral Mask'. The appendix ends with an imitation of the founding document of Romantic parody, Canning and Frere's 'The Friend of Humanity and the Knife-grinder'. Instead of the friend of humanity, here we have a friend of science conversing with one of Warren's apprentices, who offers him the following sage counsel:

We shall be glad to have your honor's custom,
Sixpence per pot we charges for our best jet
Blacking, but if you give us back the pot, we
Makes an allowance.

p. 200

Warreniana, the masterpiece of late Romantic period parody, ends by gesturing towards the beginning of the form.

Finally, Wordsworth. 'The Old Cumberland Pedlar' lacks the antipathetic bite evident in much Romantic period parody and relies for its comic effect upon incongruity rather than traducement. Nonetheless, lack of acerbity should not be confused with empty levity or a lack of interpretive insight. As well as manifesting a remarkable parodic range and manifesting in many places a formal excellence, Deacon's parodies are always critically astute. They also, like the best contemporary parody, creatively engage with Romantic ideology. In both the Byron and the Wordsworth parodies, one gets a sense of an undercutting of Romantic presentations of selfhood, an implication that they are dependent upon self-preoccupation and upon a self-dramatization which uses techniques which are very close to those of the promotional culture of commercial advertisements. With reference to The Prelude, Wordsworth dryly noted that it was 'a thing unprecedented in Literary history that a man should talk so much about himself'.  [34] However innovative such a methodology might be in literary history, it is the raison d'être of advertising copy. Perhaps Warren's poetastic 'Puffing', the overt commercialisation of the self in poetry, is not so very different from the Romantic 'egotistical sublime'. To the modern reader, Wordsworth is most representative of the spirit of the Romantic age. However, in Warreniana, he is supplanted by Robert Warren, another figure with his own undeniable form of creative, if capitalistic, genius. Warren is the epitome of, to use Neil McKendrick's term, the 'entrepreneurial imagination'.  [35]

However important the incongruity between aesthetic form and mercantile content might be in Warreniana, in one respect there is no mismatch between the imaginative and the financial. The 'intellect of England', like Warren himself, are paid according to the laws of supply and demand, with (to quote from the 'Introduction') 'each author furnishing a modicum of praise in the style to which he was best adapted, and receiving in return a recompense proportioned to his worth' (p. 13). If this is an age where selfhood is one of poetry's central thematic preoccupations, it is also one where book publishing is commercialised as never before. As Wordsworth's laments about the sums spent by Longmans on advertising his works demonstrate, even the most elevated of authors cannot easily escape links with the commercial world. The enthusiastic puffing by Henry Colburn's magazines (the New Monthly and the Literary Gazette) of books published elsewhere in his literary empire was notorious in the 1820s. Hood brackets publishing with the sale of blacking in 'The Art of Advertising': 'Colburn and Warren surprise you with the variety, brilliancy and country-circulation of their advertisements', adding tartly that 'The former of the two has not yet, I believe, like the other, had his name whitewashed in letters twice as long as his Magazine upon the walls of the Metropolis'.  [36] In the Athenaeum in July 1830, Reynolds also compared the marketing of books with the sale of ostensibly less exalted items, associating the publishers Colburn and Bentley with manufacturers of hair oil, quack medicines and, inevitably, blacking:

There can be little doubt that the stupidest cluster of trashy papers, the most insignificant articles, may by dint of eternal paragraph be forced into sale. It could not otherwise happen that Day and Martin, Rowland, Colburn and Bentley, Eady, Warren and those after their kind could lavish so much money in the praises of their oils, their books, their pills and their polish if there did not exist a class of human being who are greedy of belief. It is the duty of an independent journal to protect as far as possible the credulous, confiding and unwary from the wily arts of the insidious advertiser.  [37]

Hood, Reynolds and Chambers all refer to the 'art' of advertising. Commerce has become aestheticized and, conversely, however unwelcome the truth might be to high Romantic argument, books have become commodified. Romanticism is ineluctably involved with marketing and an author's original and individual genius is sold along the same lines as Warren's 'original matchless BLACKING'. 'Byron' and 'Scott' are commercially successful brands; 'Wordsworth'  [38] and 'Coleridge', as the 'Essay, Supplementary to the Preface' testifies, less so.

Romanticism offers a self-referentiality not dissimilar to that of advertising as a literary form which claims individuality and uniqueness. Where the Romantic poet, in Wordsworth's phrase, rejects a literary manner whose 'whole vocation/Were endless imitation',  [39] Warren scorns 'a host of servile imitators'.  [40] The copywriter's exhortation to 'avoid all imitations' might be said to echo the Romantic repudiation of neoclassical poetics. Both poet and advertiser, to quote Warren's most famous puff, offer 'An Improvement upon Mirrors'. Repudiating the imitative also invokes Romanticism's anxiety about the unsettling nature of, to borrow a phrase from Hogg, the poetic mirror, i.e. parody. After all, part of parody's function is 'copy writing' in another sense of the term to that used in advertising. Perhaps Deacon's world is not so far-fetched as it initially appears. Warreniana's parody sees poets and advertisers engaging in remarkably similar rhetorical strategies.

Parties annexes