Wicked James Lowther

On 8 May 1792, publisher Hannah Humphrey released an etching of Wicked James Lowther, by artist James Gillray. The image comprised satirist, John Wolcot pleading to James Lowther depicted as the devil. It was presented to "the worthy inhabitants of Cumberland and this impartial representation of the virtues of his infernal majesty is respectfully dedicated".

Gillray was a British caricaturist and printmaker famous for his etched political and social satires, mainly published between 1792 and 1810. He has been called "the father of the political cartoon", with his works satirizing George III, prime ministers and generals. Regarded as being one of the two most influential cartoonists, the other being William Hogarth, Gillray's wit and humour, knowledge of life, fertility of resource, keen sense of the ludicrous, and beauty of execution, at once gave him the first place among caricaturists.

Wolcot was the most popular oppositional satirist in the 1780s and 90s. Under the pseudonym of Peter Pindar, Wolcot wrote more than sixty satires of varying length from 1782 to 1897, five miscellanies of serious and humorous verse, two edited works, one play, and a large number of unpublished manuscript pieces.

His attacks on the follies and foibles of George III, and others such as William Pitt, Sir Joseph Banks, and James Boswell, and on particular events, were all fair game.
Lowther is caricatured as Satan from Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost.

In 1791, James Evans, a bookseller of Paternoster Row, London, published eight titles, many of them significant in the Wolcot canon. The first was A Commiserating Epistle to James Lowther (1792). Wolcot's vitriolic and libellous response to Lowther, the ‘bad earl’ of Lonsdale was regarding his actions in not only closing down a mine in Whitehaven but also withholding compensation to the local community. Evans was bankrupt by 1795.

On the left of the etching created by Gillray is 'Peter Pindar', who had criticised the Earl of Lonsdale. Lowther's lawyer is on the right.

The caricature was published "for the proprietor," under the title of Satan in all his Glory; or, Peter Pindar crouching to the Devil—sketched from the Peep-hole at Scalegill."

Pindar claimed:
The NOBLE EARL, as naturally in pursuit of his COAL as a Sportsman of his HARE or FOX, happening in the Coal-chase to undermine a parcel of Houses belonging to Lord-knows-who, of WHITEHAVEN (no Voter perhaps for a Borough or a County), but particularly of a Mr. LITTLEDALE– what does this insolent LITTLEDALE, but complain!–nay, not contented with complaint, he insists upon it that his LORDSHIP has no right to pull down his house about his ears–nay what is still worse, the Fellow brings an Action, absolutely brings an Action against his LORDSHIP–nay, what is still more horrible, the Knave gets a Verdict in his favour–and, what is more atrocious still, the Villains of the town and neighbourhood illuminate their houses, as if for the Birth-nights of our Beloved KING and QUEEN, and exhibit equal symptoms of joy.–notwithstanding this saucy opposition of their GREAT SUPERIOR; notwithstanding the wicked Action; notwithstanding the vile and unnatural Verdict; notwithstanding the triumphant Illumination and brazen-faced Delight on the occasions; how sublimely his LORDSHIP behaves! Though he most spiritedly suspends his Coal-works for a time, to shew the power of his vengeance; lo; he promiseth to open them again, on condition he has full liberty to undermine any houses that may impudently stand in the way of his Coal for the future–What an act of Humanity!–partly for the benefit of Himself, a poor Individual; but principally for the advantage of the Town and Neighbourhood of WHITEHAVEN! Who, besides his LORDSHIP, would have done this? It is too humane–it is too great–for as it has been observed by some celebrated DIVINES that a man may be over-righteous, so verily may a GREAT PEER be over-forgiving.–
The image shows Dr John Wolcott pleading for mercy to Satan,' who has one of his claws upon a sack of coals for the infernal pit, consisting of Cruelty, Avarice, Malice, etc. Pindar's many and various misdeeds radiate in flames from Satan's person, and a recording Demon marks them down in his book.

John Wolcot (1738-1810) studied medicine and also took Orders with the hope of preferment. After spending some years in Jamaica, he settled at Truro as a medical practitioner. In 1781 he came to London with literary aims, and after gaining notoriety with his Odes to the Royal Academicians, began a series of attacks upon the King with the Lauri, (1785) and the Ode upon Odes (1787).

Lowther as Satan is seated in triumph, his right foot resting on a sack of 'Coals from the Infernal Pitt.' (Pitt gave Lowther his peerage). Peter Pindar (Wolcot) (left) kneels on one knee at his feet, with clasped hands, beseeching mercy. A lawyer (right) whose legs are twisted serpents crouches at his left hand writing 'Peter Pindar' in a book inscribed 'Black List'. Lowther is a magnificently arrogant figure with horns, wings, and muscular legs which are bare from the knee, his toes being talons; he resembles the Satan. He wears an earl's coronet inscribed 'Evil be thou my Good', and a military coat with epaulettes. From his mouth issues two streams of flame inscribed:'No, Peter, no, in vain you sue, Tis my turn now! th' Devil must have his due. Fines! Imprisonment! Pillory! O it's hellish charming.'

In his left hand, which rests on his knee, is a flaming torch inscribed 'Epistle to Lord Lonsdale by Peter Pindar'. Behind his head is a large halo from which radiate tongues of flame that reach to the margins of the design, each with an inscription: 'Frightening a poor Poet out of his Wits'; 'Ruining Creditors by Lawsuits'; 'Undermining Whitehaven'; 'Bribing Witnesses to Perjure themselves'; 'The Art of making Soldiers serve without Pay'; 'and the advantage of their going without Breeches'; 'Breaking Matrimonial Engagements from Charitable motives'; 'Humbugging Government out of a Ship of War'; 'Bringing Sham Trials to ruin the County'; 'Shutting up the Mines to starve a Thousand Families'; 'Buying up my own Debts at Half a Crown for the Pound'; 'Making a Hell-hound my Clerk & Attorney.' The last inscription points at the lawyer as the first does at Pindar. Pindar's clothes are ragged, toes protrude through a tattered shoe. He says:"O L------, kick me, cuff me, call me rogue, varlet, & knave, & vagabond, & dog. But do not bring me for my harmless wit. Where Greybeards in their robes terrific sit."

From his pocket project two books: 'Odes upon Cowardice' and 'Odes of Importance alias Conciliatory Odes'. The latter, published in 1792, contained an 'Ode to Lord Lonsdale', in which Lonsdale is urged to imitate the King's forbearance towards 'the poet's harmless wit'; it is by no means abject, and threatens him with an independent jury and Erskine's irony. Pindar's words are a misquotation from 'Odes of Importance', the passage begins: 'Mild Minstrel, could their Lordships call thee rogue'. Lonsdale's attorney holds 'Briefs' and 'Writs' under his left arm, on which a brief-bag is hung. The coals issuing from Lonsdale's sack are inscribed: 'Covetousness', 'Dissimulation', 'Rapine', 'Treachery', 'Malice', 'Cruelty', 'Envy', 'Pride', 'Ingratitude', 'Deceit', 'Swindling', 'Rapine', 'Meanness'.

James Lowther Depicted As Satan
James Lowther Depicted As Satan


Whitehaven had been small harbour and fishing village from 13th century or earlier. Expansion began in mid-17th century with building of piers by Lowthers 1632-4 and 1679-81 and granting of market charter 1660. By the 1680s it had grown rapidly, expanding from village of c.30 households in early 17th century to a town of over 1,000 inhabitants by 1685, which more than doubled to 2,281 by 1696. Sir John Lowther had laid out grid of streets by 1680s, making Whitehaven the earliest planned new town in post-medieval Britain.

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