Saturday, 7 April 2007

Good and bad

A curate's egg is something that is partly good and partly bad, but as a result is entirely spoiled. Nowadays we use it to mean something having a mix of good and bad qualities.

Few clich├ęs have an origin which can be so precisely dated. On 9th November 1895, in Punch*, George du Maurier drew this picture, entitled “True Humility”.

Bishop: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones.”
Curate: "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!"

*Punch was founded in 1841 and was responsible for the modern use of the word 'cartoon' to refer to a comic drawing. During the late 19th century it was notorious for publishing anti-Irish jokes and was, to present-day tastes, rarely funny, though occasionally its political or social satire hit the spot. In the twentieth century it passed through phases when it was funny and witty and others when it was bland and dull, but for most of its life was a much-loved British institution.

Among its more distinguished contributors were cartoonists John Tenniel, Phil May, Arthur Rackham, E. H. Shepard, Rowland Emett, Graham Laidler (Pont), Norman Thelwell, Leslie Illingworth, Kenneth Bird (Fougasse), Nicolas Bentley, Edward Ardizzonne, Michael ffolkes, Russell Brockbank, Ronald Searle, Gerald Scarfe, Wally Fawkes (Trog), and David Langdon, and authors Kingsley Amis, John Betjeman, A. P. Herbert, A. A. Milne, Anthony Powell, W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman, Thackeray, Artemus Ward, Somerset Maugham, P.G. Wodehouse, Keith Waterhouse, Quentin Crisp, Olivia Manning, Sylvia Plath, Joyce Grenfell, E. M. Delafield, Stevie Smith and Joan Bakewell.

Circulation peaked during the 1940s when it reached 175,000, but then slowly declined until the magazine closed in 1992 after 150 years of publication. In early 1996, the Egyptian businessman Mohamed Fayed bought the rights to the name, and it was re-launched later that year. It was reported that the magazine was intended to be a spoiler aimed at Private Eye, which had published many items critical of Fayed and showing him in a bad light. The magazine never became profitable again. At the end of May 2002 it had only 6,000 subscribers, and once more ceased publication. [Wikipedia]

Happily, Punch was said to have cost Fayed £16 million (about $28 million U.S.) over the six years of his ownership. In 2004, much of the archive was sold to the British Library but it seems that the Shopkeeper-Pharaoh has retained the rights to the half-million cartoons, for if you want to use them you have to buy a licence from


Ruth said...

Ouch - that hurts!
May I ask how much you had to pay in order to use that splendid cartoon?

. said...

Well, er, I just snaffled it from Wikipedia. Also, much of the Punch archive has been put on the net by Gutenberg, bless 'em.