Jerry in training for a “Swell”
In this print, Corinthian Tom’s tailor, Mr. Primefit, has come to Corinthian House to fit Jerry Hawthorn for a new suit. Jerry stands in the center, his back to the viewer, while Mr. Primefit measures his back with tape. Jerry wears a bottle green coat, fawn breeches, and a white shirt and stockings, while the tailor wears high-waisted, tight-fitting trousers, pale blue, and a maroon coat, with a bright yellow handkerchief poking out of his back pocket. Mr. Primefit is apparently taking longer than usual because he is distracted by the various paintings that have been hung in the room since his last visit. Tom lounges on a couch on the left wearing baggier white trousers, a smoking jacket with a white and pale blue pattern, and an elaborate pink patterned cravat. The figures are in a fine but casual room, hung with sporting pictures of dogs, race horses, boxing, shooting, hunting, and cock fighting. In addition to the couch there are a couple of chairs, a semicircular commode, and a table draped with a green baize cloth. Boxing gloves and a book of "Sporting Anecdotes" are strewn about the room, together with tools of the tailor’s trade: two rolls of patterns, a top hat and hat box, and tall boots. On the table are some papers, an inkstand, a quill pen, and another top hat, while the mantel of the fireplace behind the table is graced by a large, German pipe.
Copyright 2009, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Pierce Egan's Life in London; or, The day and night scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, esq., and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their rambles and sprees through the metropolis . . . , illustrated by George and Robert Cruikshank (London: Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, 1821)
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This image served as one of George and Robert Cruikshank's illustrations for Pierce Egan's 1821 Life in London, as well as for subsequent editions; the illustration faces page 146.
This print depicts Corinthian Tom initiating his country cousin Jerry into the practice of being fitted by a tailor, and so portrays the typical mode of men’s fashion production for the wealthy. Affluent men patronized tailors, who both sold suiting fabrics and fashioned them into garments. Customers could be fitted at the tailor’s establishment, or, if special clients (as in this case), in the comfort of their own home.
Corinthian Tom and Jerry Hawthorn
This print depicts two of the principal characters in Pierce Egan's Life in London (first published in 1821, and illustrated by George and Robert Cruikshank). Corinthian Tom, the book’s main protagonist, is the ultimate London gentleman about town, with impeccable taste, wealth, and confidence. His cousin Jerry Hawthorn is the country equivalent, the son of a wealthy squire, who excels at country pursuits but needs Corinthian Tom to initiate him into London practices. The tailor Mr. Primefit exemplifies how artistic qualities were associated with professions outside of the fine arts. The book’s text describes him explicitly as an artist and explains:
This term, it should seem, had given great offence to several gentlemen of the brush who frequented the Chaffing Crib. But Logic insisted that the point of the thing bore him out. Mr. Primefit was a person that made use of colours in his profession; and about his works light and shade were also skillfully displayed. He was, likewise, a man of taste; and that he possessed a knowledge of the human figure could not be denied. (Egan 145)This explanation suggests that as the Royal Academy successfully abstracted the intellectual qualities and aesthetic philosophies of the true artist, these generalized traits could then be successfully applied to “non-artists.”
The Conversation Room
This image is set in the “Conversation-Room” of Corinthian House, the residence of Corinthian Tom. This room serves as a casual space where Tom can receive friends and entertain them with drinking and other pastimes considered particularly masculine. The emphasis on smoking and sport reinforces the space’s masculine gendering and codes the room as an appropriate place for the all-male activity of clothes fitting. The room is called by various names in the book, including the “Chaffing Crib,” the “Bay of Condolence,” the “Harvest Home,” and “Hell broke loose!” (Egan 135, n5)
In this print, Corinthian Tom’s tailor, Mr. Primefit, has come to Corinthian House to fit Jerry Hawthorn for a new suit. Mr. Primefit is apparently taking longer than usual because he is distracted by the various paintings that have been hung in the room since his last visit. Tom lounges on a couch, smiling to himself and contrasting “rustic” Jerry’s broad-shouldered physique with the thinner frames of the fashionable dandies that inhabit London’s West End. It is this observation that the viewer is also invited to make, as the piece serves to draw a gendered distinction between the effeminate taylor and the country gentleman.
This image captures how fashion was perceived as an artistic endeavor in the Romantic period, primarily by representing the tailor, a producer of male fashion, as a creative professional. Furthermore, not only does the text explicitly describe him as an artist, but the image further portrays Mr. Primefit as a connoisseur of fine art: he is visibly distracted by the paintings on the wall during Jerry's fitting, and so his love of fine art appears to take precedence over his business. The print also emphasizes the role of fashion as a tool for producing a certain “look,” in this case the “look of a gentlemen,” a visual creation that is specifically classed and gendered as an elite masculine prerogative (Egan 146). Fashion not only creates a costume, however: it can also refashion the inner man. Once Jerry receives the “swell suit,” he discards his country clothes or “rustic habits” and is very pleased with his London wardrobe, even though he “scarcely knew himself, as his eyes ran over the mirror which reflected the elegant metamorphose he had undergone” (Egan 148). Jerry’s gaze in the mirror is the last of a series of homoerotic inspections enabled by the process of clothes fitting. Jerry is subjected to the objectifying male gaze of Mr. Primefit, Corinthian Tom, and himself; as a result, he is viewed as a tasteful object—a fashionable gentleman, a swell—rather analogous to the paintings that the men also view on the walls.
As depicted here, the swell lacks the fashionable and effeminate extremes of the dandy. The swell’s interest in masculine fashion is represented as one among various gentlemanly pursuits, such as boxing, horses, country sports, reading, writing, and smoking. The contrast between the well-rounded swell and the dandified artist is made visually explicit in the central juxtaposition of Jerry and Mr. Primefit. Jerry takes an almost colossal stance, his broad back and exaggerated calf muscles giving him a burly heft, whereas the tailor’s slim legs and high waist liken him to a contemporary woman of fashion in an empire-waist dress. In contradistinction to the swell, Mr. Primefit is portrayed as both effeminate and myopic: his glasses signify a shortsightedness in which he can only focus on the artistic—the cut of a coat or the paintings on the wall. The tailor could therefore be read as lacking the ability to take in the broad view, an ability that country landowners like Jerry were presumed to have and make use of in their capacity as members of the “public,” or participants in political affairs. In this way, the gendered juxtaposition between Jerry and Mr. Primefit is also a classed distinction between the country landowner and the professional working man.
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31 August 1820