Friday, April 1, 2011

Charles Molloy Westmacott
- "virulent scribbler"

If you are born a man of modest, or even straightened, means in a time when wealth, nobility and society are all important, what can you do? You can either strive with all your resources to join said society--claw your way up the social ladder--or you can denigrate that society in order to indicate that you have no admiration for it, and that you believe it to be valueless.

Charles Molloy Westmacott chose the latter alternative. He was born in 1788, the illegitimate son (he claimed) of the artist Richard Westmacott and Susannah Molloy, an inn-keeper. Though enemies claimed he was the son of a chimney sweep, he was well educated, and he spent many of his early years in the art and theatre worlds.

In the early 1820's he entered the publishing world. For some years he had been collecting documents 'relating to the aristocracy' and he realized he could profit from the information he had gathered. He began writing, and what he wrote was always controversial, often actionable, and usually scandalous.

In 1825, he achieved a pinnacle of notoriety with the publication of "The English Spy" using a pseudonym 'Bernard Blackmantle'.

The "Spy" covered many aspects of life within the world of the beau monde, particularly commenting upon the worlds of Eton and Oxford. But the society of Brighton and of Mayfair were also derided and The "Spy" begins with a 'poem':
But society did not view his pages with good humour for even the frontispiece illustration and the accompanying text poked fun at them, based on the Five Orders of Architecture:

His connections in the art world ensured that his book was illustrated by top rank artists, Robert Cruickshank and the then elderly Thomas Rowlandson. The material Westmacott included in his book was carefully designed to portray society in its worst light:

"The swaggering broad-shouldered blade who follows near him, with a frontispiece like the red lion, is the well know radical, Jack S____h, now agent to the French consul for this place, and the unsuccessful candidate for the independent borough of Shoreham."
Women were not immune from his acid tongue:
The plump looking dame on the right, is Aug--ta C--ri, (otherwise lady H-----e); so called after the P--n--ss A-------a, her godmamma.
In 1825 Westmacott also published under the same pseudonym, a roman a clef titled "Fitzalleyne of Berkeley; a Romance of the Present Times". It recounted a hot gossip story thinly disguised, and excited much distress among the actual participants in the events.

His path now determined, Westmacott became editor of a Sunday weekly paper "The Age" in 1827. "The Age", which first appeared in 1825, was all about gossip and scandal, heresay and irregularity. His mildest writings were still tongue in cheek:

"Through a slight return of the gout, His Majesty [George IV, formerly the Prince Regent] has most prudently postponed the Drawing Room which was to have been held on Thursday--but we are assured it will delight our readers to know that His Majesty's health is so far renovated as to preclude the chance of any further disappointment."

His Majesty was, of course, extremely unpopular, and there was probably no delight felt in any reader about the health of the King.

Charles Westmacott died in 1868 having spent a lifetime disparaging the beau monde. He was described at one point in his career as "the principal blackmailing editor of his day". He said of himself in the introduction to "The English Spy":
...he has no tongue for scandal--no pen for malice--no revenge to gratify, but is only desirous of attempting a true portraiture of men and manners, in the higher and more polished scenes of life.
It was, of course, all untrue. He was seeking revenge, on a society that rejected him. And he seemed satisfied with the results of his labour. The National Portrait Gallery has a wonderful drawing of Westmacott by artist Daniel Maclise. You can view it here--he looks to me to be a self-satisfied man. Tabloid journalism of today has its origins with writers such as Charles Molloy Westmacott--to my mind, a doubtful legacy.

'Til next time,


Sources: Charles Molloy Westmacott and the Spirit of the Age by David E. Latane. Victorian Periodicals Review, Volume 40, Number 1, Spring 2007 pp. 44-72


Anne Gallagher said...

Everything you write about is always soooo fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing it.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

I'm glad you enjoy my blog, Anne. I is so nice to hear when people find interesting the things that I discover. I'm so happy to share whatever I find! Thanks for leaving a comment!

A.T.Heist said...

Thank you for enlightening me on my great,great,great grand uncle. A bounder and a cad by all accounts - a family tradition I intend to persue !


Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Your 3x Great Uncle? Really? How remarkable! Thank you for leaving a comment--and good for you for keeping up tradition :)

David Latané said...

I'm still fascinated by "The Sweep" as his enemies called him, and have continued my research beyond what I put in to the essay that is so kindly cited here.

I'd be particularly interested in hearing more from Mr. Heist on the family history.

The 1841 census lists Charles Molloy Westmacott, age 50, at Kingston Lodge, Kingston upon Thames. Birth is listed as “Out of County”. Occupation “Printer.” Also in Household are Charles William Westmacott, Age 12; Anne Westmacott, Age 35; Sarah Burling, Age 20, Servant.

Westmacott seems to have retired to the country (he writes briefly for the New Sporting Magazine, and then to Paris.

Any more in formation will be gratefully received.

David Latané