Watch the Falsehood of External Appearances Revealed by an 18th Century Harlequinade

Cotsen 14167

The irony of a harlequinade with such a title housed in a slip case covered with beautiful marbled paper isn’t lost on us. But that doesn’t make the actual content of the case any less externally impressive either! Probably published in England around 1775 by an unknown publisher, The Falsehood of External Appearances is that shows how the naked eye can not always discern the true state of people’s inner virtue and heavenly merit (or moral turpitude) from their appearance.  It’s a descendant of the Beginning, Progress, and End of Man first published in the mid-seventeenth century.

A harlequinade, so named because examples from the 1770s featured Harlequin, the comic stage  character, is created by pasting together two copper-plate engraved sheets, each with four illustrations. What distinguishes the harlequinade from other moveable books is that the top sheet is cut into eight separate sections which reveal the image on the sheet below when the  flaps of each section are lifted up (the harlequinade is also called a metamorphic, flap-, or turn-up book)Each subject is accompanied by a four-line verse caption, which usually end with instructions to turn the flaps and see the image below transformed.  Here the reader can see true natures of a rake, a wood cutter, a humble cottage, and a milkmaid revealed.

This very rare moral harlequinade doesn’t feature Harlequin in a contemporary stage production, but is nevertheless a finely preserved example both in form and content. A fitting medium for revealing the falsehoods of external appearances, click on the video below to see the true state of the characters shown above:

The hidden last verse of each panel cannot be easily viewed (the top flap is pasted very close to the text). So I’ve transcribed the final verse of each panel below:

Panel 1:

He’s chaind secure until a Shameful Death,/ Shall put a Period to the Villains breath,/ When all his knavery will be unfurld,/ And a vile monster quit an injur’d world.

Panel 2:

Complete & perfect is his peace of mind,/ And all his troubles leave no sting behind,/ Such ever will be honest Virtues fate,/ And such it’s sure reward be soon or late.

Panel 3:

Pure earthly Pleasures of each fort and kind,/ You at the mansion of the Just will find,/ Plenty smiles round them & their doors enfold,/ Treasures more precious far than Ophir’s gold.

Panel 4:

Thus merit shall to high distinction rise,/ And claim the highest blessings of the Skies,/ Respect shall on its footsteps still attend,/ And every worthy mortal be its Friend.

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