The Miseries of Human Life and Other Amusements: Drawings by Thomas Rowlandson

The Miseries of Human Life, written in 1806 by James Beresford (1764–1840) of Oxford University, was extraordinarily successful, becoming a minor classic in the satirical literature of the day. In a humorous dialogue between two old curmudgeons, the book details the “petty outrages, minor humiliations, and tiny discomforts that make up everyday human existence.” The public loved it: dozens of editions were published, and printmakers rushed to illustrate their own versions of life’s miseries.

Thomas Rowlandson (1756/57–1827) began drawing scenes based on Beresford’s book as soon as it was published, and after two years the luxury print dealer Rudolph Ackermann selected fifty of his hand-colored etchings for a new edition of Miseries. Many of the now-iconic characters and situations that the artist drew for this project–some based closely on Beresford’s text and others of his own invention–reappeared in later works, with variations on the Miseries turning up until the artist’s death.

In the early twentieth century, Dickson Q. Brown, Class of 1895, donated two thousand Rowlandson prints and all of the artist’s illustrated books to Princeton University Library. Of particular importance was a small box of Rowlandson’s unpublished, undated drawings, including many specifically related to his Miseries series. Here, in its first public presentation, is a selection of Rowlandson’s drawings from Brown’s donation. Just as in Rowlandson’s book, those specific to Beresford’s text are shown alongside others that illustrate life’s miseries more generally, including some from the Princeton University Art Museum’s collection. The sections follow the chapters, or “groans,” of Beresford’s book

 

Julie Mellby, Graphic Arts Curator, Rare Books and Special Collections,

Princeton University Library

Published Miseries

The Miseries of Social Life

The Miseries of Domestic Life

The Miseries of Games and Sports

The Miseries of Professional Life

The Miseries of Human Life

 

All of the Miseries

 

  • 129826
    William Henry Pyne, British, 1769–1843
    James Beresford, British, 1764–1840
    Frontispiece to The Miseries of Human Life, or, The Groans of Samuel Sensitive and Timothy Testy, London : Printed for W. Miller, 1806
    L.2017.14.1
  • 129827
    James Beresford, British, 1764–1840
    Frontispiece to The Miseries of Human Life, or, The Groans of Samuel Sensitive and Timothy Testy, 2nd edition. London: Printed for W. Miller, 1806
    L.2017.14.2
  • 129828
    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    Title page to Miseries of Human Life. Fifty etchings after James Beresford’s book of the same title, London: R. Ackermann, 1808.
    L.2017.14.3
  • 129829
    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    Miseries of Social Life: Dining, and Passing the Whole Evening with a Party of Fox Hunters . . ., 1807
    L.2017.14.4
  • 129830
    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    Gentleman Drinking from a Jug
    L.2017.14.5
  • 4576
    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    Voyage en France: Hôtel de Flandre
    x1943-56
  • 129831
    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    Doctors Differ
    L.2017.14.6
  • 129835
    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    Cottage Full of Children
    L.2017.14.9
  • 129833
    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    Argument
    L.2017.14.7
  • 129834
    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    Too Many Children and Too Little Charity
    L.2017.14.8
  • 5262
    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    A Smoking Chimney and Scolding Wife: The Plagues of Man, ca. 1810–20
    x1947-190
  • 129837
    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    First of August, Rowing for Coat and B[adge]
    L.2017.14.11
  • 129839
    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    Miseries of Games and Sports: In Hunting - While You Are Leading the Field . . . To Be Suddenly . . . In the Ditch . . .
    L.2017.14.13
  • 129836
    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    Storm and Shipwreck
    L.2017.14.10
  • 129841
    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    A Lawyer and a Sawyer, ca. 1804
    L.2017.14.14
  • 129842
    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    Slugs in a Saw-Pit, ca. 1791
    L.2017.14.15
  • 129843
    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    A Gamester Cleaned Out
    L.2017.14.16
  • 5265
    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    The Murder and Robbery of the Miser
    x1947-192
  • 129845
    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    Mirth Extinguished
    L.2017.14.18
  • 7502
    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    Results of Intemperance or Memento Mori
    x1948-244