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Charles Fox’s Modern Hercules

1806

“Now the Lion is dead!!! But I have had a Devil of a Job in the Augean Stable…”

hercules1Meet Charles James Fox as Hercules in April 1806, popular supporter of individual and religious freedom, and the interests of the bourgeoisie and upper working-class against landed aristocrats, slave traders, and the monarchy.  His arch-rival, the Conservative Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (the “Nemean Lion” whose head is to be seen hanging from Fox’s waist) had just died. This allowed Fox briefly back into government before his own death a few months later.

Here the cartoonist shows  Pitt as facing many labours, including the Emancipation of Catholics, still lying ahead of him.  He looks daunted but belligerent, wielding the club of Public Opinion. Although he was almost always in opposition, this radical Whig politician dominated the British parliament for nearly four decades in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He systematically criticised George III,  whom he regarded as a tyrant, supported the American and French revolutionaries, and campaigned ardently against slavery.

In 1800, the Act of Union with Ireland had brought the iniquitous position of Roman Catholics in Ireland, who were largely co-extensive with the poor peasantry there, under the spotlight.  Fox was determined to carry through legislation to improve their situation and that of other, non-Catholic religious Non-Conformists, but died before making much headway.

A passionate and cultured Etonian classicist himself, addicted to the poetry of Horace, he was often caricatured as a figure in classical myth, especially a battling Hercules. Here his speech bubble fuses contemporary problems (Napoleon, who was Corsican, issues with the East India Company in India) with various mythical labours:

“Now the Lion is dead!!! But I have had a Devil of a Job in the Augean Stable and I suppose I shall have a worse before I can conquer the Corsican Hydra! As for the Golden Fleece I’ll take good care of that! The Caledonian Boar!! Indian Harpies!!  Emancipation! Reform! Oh damme, that’s nothing!”

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