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 Of particular importance was a small box of Rowlandson’s unpublished, undated drawings, including many specifically related to his Miseries series.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
All of the Miseries
L.2017.14.1 Frontispiece to The Miseries of Human Life, or, The Groans of Samuel Sensitive and Timothy Testy, London : Printed for W. Miller, 1806
L.2017.14.2 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.2017.14.3 Title page to Miseries of Human Life. Fifty etchings after James Beresford’s book of the same title, London: R. Ackermann, 1808.
L.2017.14.4 Miseries of Social Life: Dining, and Passing the Whole Evening with a Party of Fox Hunters . . ., 1807
L.2017.14.5 Gentleman Drinking from a Jug
x1943-56 Voyage en France: Hôtel de Flandre
L.2017.14.6 Doctors Differ
L.2017.14.9 Cottage Full of Children
L.2017.14.8 Too Many Children and Too Little Charity
x1947-190 A Smoking Chimney and Scolding Wife: The Plagues of Man, ca. 1810–20
L.2017.14.11 First of August, Rowing for Coat and B[adge]
L.2017.14.13 Miseries of Games and Sports: In Hunting - While You Are Leading the Field . . . To Be Suddenly . . . In the Ditch . . .
L.2017.14.10 Storm and Shipwreck
L.2017.14.14 A Lawyer and a Sawyer, ca. 1804
L.2017.14.15 Slugs in a Saw-Pit, ca. 1791
L.2017.14.16 A Gamester Cleaned Out
x1947-192 The Murder and Robbery of the Miser
L.2017.14.18 Mirth Extinguished
x1948-244 Results of Intemperance or Memento Mori
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