The Miseries of Professional Life

The prominent crocodile seen here is called a “sawyer,” or someone who saws wood, but the word is also found in British rhyming slang: lawyer = Tom Sawyer (long before Mark Twain). Over the years, these rhymes were shortened to single words, resulting in Sawyer/lawyer. No profession escaped Rowlandson’s satirical wit, as we see in the illustrations here of a doctor, a lawyer, a merchant, and a thief. He rarely caricatured individuals but rather the behavior of London society generally, as in the lanky figure being robbed, which evolved into the title character in Rowlandson’s next commission, Doctor Syntax.

This group includes one of the only drawings by Rowlandson that has a confirmed date: a hand-colored etching titled Slugs in a Saw-Pit, clearly based on Princeton’s drawing, was published on October 28, 1791. “Slug” can refer to a bullet or to a dull person—in this case, the “slugs” are dim-witted officers representing the Army and the Navy. Note that Rowlandson added an hourglass, perhaps indicating an eventual end to this comic standoff.

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    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    A Lawyer and a Sawyer, ca. 1804
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    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    Slugs in a Saw-Pit, ca. 1791
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    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    A Gamester Cleaned Out
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    Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756/57–1827
    The Murder and Robbery of the Miser