An eighteenth-century writer could try to realize some cash by dedicating a work to an important person, who might return the favor with some remuneration. Perhaps the anonymous author of the innovative speller, The Child’s New Play-Thing (London: T. Cooper, 1742), was angling for a teaching appointment when he dedicated it to little George, the son of Frederick, Prince of Wales (1709-1751).
A portrait engraved by Charles Moseley of the future George III (1738-1820) in a jaunty tricorne faced the third edition’s title page. Holding a rose, an emblem of the youth’s brevity, the stolid boy is the picture of solemn innocence. At the time around four years of age, little George was still wearing skirts and would not be breeched for another two or three years, as was usual in the days before the invention of the washing machine or of disposable diapers (the reasons don’t need to be detailed here).
Being in skirts hardly granted immunity from the slings and arrows of disgruntled subjects if one happened to be second in line of succession to the British throne, as was the little prince. Long before George was crowned, plagued by his unruly brood of sons, and finally incapacitated by porphyria, he was disrespected by the unruly pen of a peer.
In the Cotsen copy of the 3rd edition of The Child’s New Play-Thing (1745), a previous owner traced the prince’s image in reverse on the frontispiece’s recto, adding scraggly whiskers and body parts (which look suspiciously female) the bodice is supposed to cover. The amateurish quality of the drawing suggests a child’s hand and perhaps that of a child from a family that hoped for the triumph of the Young Pretender, Prince Charles Edward Stuart in the 1745 Jacobite rebellion (the year the 3rd edition of The Child’s New Play-Thing was published) that was eventually quelled by George II’s son, William, Duke of Cumberland.
But of course the defacement of the little prince’s portrait may not be a youthful expression of disloyalty against the Hanovers (as tempting as it is to jump to conclusions). It may be nothing more profound than the tell-tale sign of the childish urge to doodle on any flat surface whether on paper or walls–an urge that William Hogarth must have known very well as a boy himself, having immortalized it in the lower right hand corner of the frontispiece to The Analysis of Beauty or in the foreground of “The First Stage of Cruelty.”