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date: 16 September 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The idea of a British ‘debate’ on the French Revolution inadequately describes the culture wars of the 1790s, where satire remained a key weapon. Scurrilous works such as Charles Pigott’s Jockey Club (1792) harnessed libellous newspaper innuendo to republican politics. Many who agreed with its politics blanched at its method, but attacks on the royal family and William Pitt abounded, especially in the crisis year of 1795. Prosecutions for libel rose sharply in the decade, but it was an inefficient instrument of repression. Pensions were tried on Peter Pindar and James Gillray, but the policing of culture was also conducted in a series of verse satires that followed William Gifford’s Baviad (1791). Ideological agreement did not stop conservative satirists having their own squabbles about method, especially when it came to questions of ‘personality’. William Boscawen’s Progress of Satire (1798), for instance, suggested that satire in its rough Juvenalian mode might have become inappropriate to modern manners, but any downgrading of satire as a genre scarcely brought a diminution in practice.

Keywords: seditious libel, French Revolution, radicalism, Peter Pindar, James Gillray, anti-Jacobinism, caricature, newspapers, personality

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