INJURY TO INSULT: THE REVOLTING TAILORS

Quadrupeds

Tailors were often maligned at the time, and this was partly because their craft, highly skilled though it was, was regarded as ‘unmanly’.  They were portrayed in political cartoons as spare, mean and grasping.  There are two obvious reasons for this. The Regency buck or nobleman was usually heavily in debt, but still needed to dress well.  The tailor was a necessary evil in this, and Zounds! even wanted to be paid from time to time.  This attitude to debt and to tailors was neatly summed up by Dickens some years later, in Household Words:

“One day while a dunning tradesman was in the room of a nobleman vainly endeavouring to extract money a letter was brought requesting the payment of a very large sum lost at cards. This debt was settled before the wondering eyes of the tailor who was far from pleased at seeing money to which he considered he had a prior claim going into other hands.
“That was a debt of honour,” calmly remarked the nobleman.
“And may I ask what you call a debt of honour, My Lord?”
“A debt of honour is one contracted verbally and one the payment of which cannot be exacted by law.”
“Thank you My Lord, then from henceforth I prefer to have no claim on your lordship” and the wily man tore his bill in two.
The stroke of diplomacy succeeded and the tailor got his money”

The other reason was that the tailor was often a foreigner – a Frenchie, or even a Jew!  His poor image was not helped by the publishing of poems, newspaper cartoons and even plays satirizing tailors.  A ‘burlesque’ entitled: “The Tailors: a Tragedy for Warm Weather”, written by Samuel Foote, had first been produced in 1767, but was revived in August, 1805, when Mr. Dowton presented it at the Haymarket Theatre.  Although it was not the intention of the piece, it was perceived by the tailors as offensive to them.
 
“After it was announced for representation the Tailors declared both openly and by anonymous letters to the managers that if the piece were brought forward they would go in a body to the house and there take summary vengeance. The proprietors however having gone to great expense in getting up the performance were resolved to bring it forward.  Mr, Dowton also received several letters warning him of the consequences attending its production, all of which he very properly disregarded.   At an early hour in the afternoon of August 15 about 700 persons mostly Tailors were waiting to gain admittance to the theatre at the opening of the doors. The greater portion went to the galleries while some took their station in the pit and the moment they got in commenced shouting and knocking their sticks in the most turbulent manner. The utmost noise and confusion prevailed in the house and when the curtain rose there was a general cry of ‘Dowton! Dowton!’  Mr Dowton, came forward but the tumult increased and there were loud shouts of ‘No Dowton!  No Dowton!’  He attempted to speak but could not be heard, the uproar now greatly increased.  A Tailor’s thimble and a pair of scissors were thrown from the shilling gallery on the stage; they passed very near to Mr Dowton and he took them up and coming to the front said “I would give twenty guineas to know who threw these scissors!”  This proceeding so alarmed some ladies in the stage box that at their request he left the stage.  The noise continuing with increased violence the managers despaired of obtaining a hearing in the usual way and had recourse to the exhibition of a large board whereon they asked to know the pleasure of the audience.  Papers were handed to the galleries and every possible intimation was given that offensive piece should be withdrawn and the farce of Village Lawyer substituted.  This however did not produce a cessation of hostilities and about nine o’clock managers finding it impossible to procure peace despatched a messenger to Mr. Graham the magistrate at Bow who soon arrived with some officers and having sworn several extra constables proceeded to the galleries and on the ring leaders took about a dozen of the rioters custody and lodged them in St Martin’s watch house.  After Catherine and Petruchio, the curtain being up discovered three Tailors seated upon a board.  The uproar then became universal; loud vociferations of every kind were made, and a very strong opposition was again formidably manifested.  The Bow Street Officers made their appearance after a time and eventually several of the most riotous were put out of the house.  The piece then proceeded but in consequence of these interruptions it was nearly one o’clock before the performance was over.  A party of the Horse patrolled up and down the Haymarket and remained until the crowd had dispersed.”
[Introduction to ‘The Tailors, (or “Quadrupeds,”): a tragedy for warm weather, in three acts’, by Samuel Foote]

The fracas that ensued is shown in the cartoon at the top of this blog.

Following this incident, a mock-heroic poem entitled ‘The Tailor’s Revolt’ was published under the pseudonym of ‘Jeremy Swell, Gent.’  Both of these works were in turn attacked in a tract called: ‘The Tailor’s Answer to the Late Attacks Upon their Profession from the Stage and Press With Critical Remarks on Jeremy Swell’s Mock Heroic Poem, by ‘a Flint’. (A ‘flint’ was a term used to describe a tailor working in a union shop).
 
“Does a man degenerate from his nature by becoming a Tailor?  Certainly not!  Why then do you laugh at us?  Is it because we sit cross legg’d at our work?  Fools who make themselves merry with this Circumstance do not know perhaps that this is the general posture of sitting adopted by all the Eastern nations as the most graceful and natural; nobody was ever seen to laugh at the Grand Signior and his Haram sitting cross legg’d at the Circus, but two Tailors in the same position at the Haymarket were deem’d a fit subject for mirth – 0 Tempore!  0 mores!  “But,” says some pert witling, “ a Tailor is only the ninth part of a man.””
 
The old sore about ‘a tailor being a ninth part of a man’ dates back probably to the 16th century, and its precise origin is unclear.  As a phrase it is meant intransitively, but in the cartoon below it is cleverly made transitive, when applied to the Prince of Wales – that he was nothing without his tailors.  He is satirized in cartoons, increasingly after the turn of the 19th century, as a tailor himself, or as a tailor’s dummy.

Cruikshank-1819

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5 Responses to INJURY TO INSULT: THE REVOLTING TAILORS

  1. Anonymous says:

    Good heavens. I knew that it was beneath the dignity of the gentle classes to rub elbows with the trades, but I did not know that tailors were so generally maligned! No wonder Louis laid low and kept himself to himself.

  2. Charles Bazalgette says:

    Thank you! I didn’t ever get back to the real source of this.

  3. Charles Bazalgette says:

    I have now looked into the tellers etc in detail and it will make an interesting (I hope) paragraph in the book. It seems that at the time, apart from being an expression to denigrate tailors, it was mainly used to show that a well-dressed gentleman should use several tailors rather than just one. So thanks again for this lead. You can contact me at bazalgette(at) telus.net if you wish.

  4. Joao Gabriel Cordeiro Filho. says:

    King George IV (1762-1830) was a real prize winner on his Private wardrobes!!!! Does anyone mentioned too that he dressed always as a King? No! But yes, yes, he did!! Always elegant to the extremity as Prince Regent, but also always (and with the same apetite!) enormously generous with his subjects!!

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