‘Penny’ Wise, ‘Penny’ Foolish?: Popular Periodicals and the ‘March of Intellect’ in the 1820s and 1830s

  • Brian E. Maidment


One of the aims of mass-circulation graphic satire — cartoons, caricatures, and the like — is that of representing social anxieties and complexities through simplified visual codes which draw on (and construct) stereotypes, emblems, and repeated images. Nowhere is this process more obvious than in the considerable number of caricatures and prints which delineate and describe the massive cultural and educational developments within the artisan and working classes in the 1820s, 30s, and 40s, developments which were given shorthand titles like ‘the march of intellect’, ‘the march of mind’, ‘useful knowledge’, or ‘the pursuit of knowledge’, sometimes ‘under difficulties’.1 The social and ideological complexities of these developments are obvious enough. Did thinking, literate, and increasingly articulate working men and women challenge the political status quo in presumptuous or even dangerous ways, or was cultural advance a key method through which political challenge could be dispersed or assimilated into the dominant culture? Whatever the dangers, the advantages of a literate, reflective, and socially ambitious artisan class for the development of an industrial economy were immediately apparent to employers, investors, and social theorists. For artisans themselves self-education might provide, in addition to literacy, articulacy, and education ‘for their own sakes’, improved career prospects and better access to technical, instructional, and recreational literature.


Comic Strip Social Threat Single Plate Butterfly Wing Cultural Advance 
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Works cited

  1. Anderson, P. The Printed Image and the Transformation of Popular Culture 1750–1914. Oxford, 1991.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian E. Maidment

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