J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, January 14, 2023

“As rotten as an old Catherine pear”

In April 1778, John Wilkes was back at Bath (if he had ever left). On the 28th he wrote to his daughter Polly about the well known author Catharine Macaulay:
Yesterday we went to Kitty Macaulay, as she is still called. She looked as rotten as an old Catherine pear. Lord I[rnham]. was disgusted with her manner, &c.

Darley has just published a new caricature of her and the Doctor, which she owns has vexed her to the heart. It is worth your buying.
Back in May 1777, the artist Mattina Darly had published a cartoon of Macaulay writing while the Rev. Dr. Thomas Wilson looked on, titled “The Historians.” Behind them was a bust of Alfred the Great, reflecting both Whiggish admiration for that early king and how the minister had named his mansion Alfred House. The image above comes courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library.

The “new caricature” from Darly was evidently the one at the bottom of this post, showing Macaulay stalked by death while she applied makeup. That picture also included Wilson’s profile.

Wilkes knew that Macaulay didn’t like that portrayal. Nevertheless, he recommended that his daughter buy the picture.

And then a few lines later Wilkes wrote: “To-day I dine with Mrs. Macaulay and the Doctor.”

What a delightful man.

TOMORROW: A more flattering, less recognizable picture.

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