“Nothing Except A Battle Lost Can Be Half so Melancholy as a Battle Won:” Glimpses of Disabled Veterans

gillray_world carved

James Gillray, “The Plumb Pudding in Danger” (1805). The British Prime Minister William Pitt the younger and Napoleon carve up the world, represented as an enormous plum pudding, between them.

During the first two decades of the nineteenth century, the picture book came into its own in England, a period of extraordinary fertility in children’s book publishing dubbed “the dawn of levity” by F. J. Harvey Darton, even though it coincided with the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815).   The protracted war with the French cast its shadow over English children’s books nevertheless, although detecting its   presence can be as subtle an exercise as in Jane Austen’s novels.

Of course there were overtly militaristic children’s books such as the school book New Geographical Grammar (1811), in which its author John Evans described preparations supposedly being made in French port towns for the invasion of England. Stirring accounts of martial valor designed to instill the seeds of patriotism and to inspire the desire for military service could be found in The Naval Heroes of Great Britain: or, Accounts of the Lives and Actions of the Distinguished Admirals and Commanders who have Contributed to Confer on Great Britain the Empire of the Ocean (1806).

But there are other books published then which bear out the truth of the Duke of Wellington’s sorrowful observation that the only thing as sad as a battle lost is a battle won.  I can’t remember when I began to notice pictures of disabled veterans  in Regency children’s books, but I only started to jot down all the references.  They drive home the realization that the sight of an old soldier with a cork or wooden leg must have been in England must have been a common one after Waterloo.  Only  an high-born officer like Henry Paget, second earl of Uxbridge could afford a sophisticated prosthetic device to replace a limb shattered on the battlefield.

Some disabled veterans scraped together a living performing on the streets of London.   Billy Waters, an American-born freed slave, who fought in the British forces during the American War of Independence, became something of a local celebrity.  This is one of three pictures of Billy Waters I have found in Cotsen–the other two are in The Cries of London Drawn from Life (1823) and a book of London cries lacking a title page published ca.1821 by J. Bysh.


Hodgson’s The Cries of London (London: Hodgson & Co., ca. 1824).

Pictures of amputees may be more common in children’s books issued by the Quaker firm of the Dartons and they may be an indication of  pacifist tendencies.  This one from My Real Friend is unusual for showing quite graphically the daily accidental humiliations to which an amputee had to endure.  The passage the picture accompanies follows.


The title vignette for My Real Friend: or Incidents in Life, Founded on Truth. 2nd ed. corrected (London: W. Darton, 1812). The old soldier’s peg leg has gotten caught in the style.



Perhaps the most unusual sighting of a disabled veteran I’ve found so far is the frontispiece by R. Stennett for Parlour Amusements; or A New Book of Games and Forfeits (ca. 1820).  It shows a group of children playing the game of “Old Soldier” which is described inside.   One person is supposed to impersonate the impoverished veteran and notice how the boy has improvised a wooden leg from a pair of bellows.   The verse rules are followed with a model dialog between imaginary players to show how the process of questions and answers ought to play out.  4907frontis






The game of “Old Soldier,” which also goes by the name of “Here Comes an Old Soldier from Botany Bay,” was played for almost a century in the English-speaking world.  Halliwell-Phillipps included it in Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales (1849) under the title “The Poor Soldier.”   The second edition of Cassell’s Book of In-door Amusements, Card Games, and Fireside Fun described it as old in 1882, but didn’t speculate as to its probable age.  The 1901 volume of the Pennsylvania School Journal recommended “The Game of the Poor, Old Soldier” as an amusing one for small children in 1901, as did Grace Lee Davidson’s 1916 Games and Parties for Children.

This appearance in Parlour Amusements seems to be the earliest recorded and perhaps it is a relic of the Napoleonic Wars. The larger question is to consider what exactly such a game tells us about attitudes towards the disabled veteran during the nineteenth century. Here he seems to be treated simply as a character type that offers a good opportunity for dress up, rather than as a brave soul whose broken body  deserves respect as a symbol of patriotic service to his country.   Whatever its  meaning, the frontispiece of Parlour Amusements, along with the other illustrations shown here, offers a surprising glimpse into the impact of war on civilians.


Junk Food in Picture Books

It’s Junk Food Friday today when we pay tribute to those artists who elevate calories from  salt, fat, refined white sugar, bleached flour, and preservatives to the empyrean.


Sculpted sticks of Umaibo, a Japanese cheese-flavored corn snack, by Koshi Kawachi.

The post does not recommend the consumption of overprocessed food full of empty calories (also known as “cheat food”) nor will it show children eating disgusting quantities of unhealthy things out of the box with their fingers.  There will be, however, graphic depictions of artworks whose raw materials are candy, snack food, and their packaging plus some picture books in which they figure prominently. If you have high nutritional principles or no will power whatsoever, do not read any farther.

Why wouldn’t sugar be a powerful source of inspiration for artists?   It is packed with cultural significance, it can be molded and spun, and it takes color beautifully.

miss piggy-full

A candy wrapper collage by Laura Benjamin.


A candy floor art installation by Pip & Pop (Tanya Schultz).

candy corn kaleidoscope

A candy corn kaleidoscope.

As much as we admire how visual artists have exploited the tactile and sculptural qualities of junk food, it is the picture book illustrators who have realized its narrative potential.  When the hero’s father is laid off in Richard Egielski’s Jazper, he takes a three-week job house-sitting for five evil moths.  In the evenings, he passes the lonely hours reading magic books in the library.


Richard Egielski, Jazper (1998), p. 14. Private collection.

By the time the moths come home, Jazper has mastered the art of transformation and decides to hit the boards to supplement the family income.  When the moths read the great newspaper write-up of the Amazing Jazper’s act, in which he changes into anything from a pickle to a cheese doodle, they vow to take revenge for having allowed him access to the library.


Jazper the stupendous cheese doodle. Richard Egielski, Jazper (1998), p. 17. Private collection.

Or there’s Dennis Nolan’s Hunters of the Great Forest.  The reader has no idea what they might be seeking when they set out one warm night over the mountains and through the forest, braving dragonflies, toads, blue jays and irascible chipmunks.


It’s in the lower right hand corner. Dennis Nolan, Hunters of the Great Forest (2014), p. 32. Private collection.

It takes all their strength and cunning to bring the prize home to the village.


Dennis Nolan, Hunters of the Great Forest (2014), p. 34. Private collection.

Toasted on sticks in front of a roaring fire, just one marshmallow is enough to sustain the entire Lilliputian community.


Dennis Nolan, Hunters of the Great Forest (2014), p. 37. Private collection.

 It’s space aliens against a cat in David Wiesner’s Mr. Wuffles!


This doesn’t look good for our space travelers. David Wiesner, Mr. Wuffles (2013), p. 8. Private collection.

There’s no choice except to abandon ship and take refuge under the radiator, where their Brobdingnagian enemy can’t reach.  But he can sit in front of their hiding place and wait.  And wait.  And wait.


Cheese it! David Wiesner, Mr. Wuffles! (2013), p. 15. Private collection.

They take heart when the ladybug finds rations…  Not bad at all!


Don’t despair lads, we’ll outlast it… David Wiesner, Mr. Wuffles! (2013), p. 19.

Fortified by empty calories, our space aliens find the strength to confound the brute, make their way back to their space ship, and blast off towards the safety of their own galaxy somewhere far far away…

Who would have ever guessed that stories of perseverance, courage, and derring-do could hinge on  sugar and…


If sugary and starchy installations prove impossible to conserve, representations of junk food in the picture book will live on, if properly annotated.   Now pass the doughnuts.


CRUNCH, CRUNCH, CRUNCH. Meg Rosoff, Wild Boars Cook (2008). Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Private collection.