University of Glasgow


Part of the Library and University Services

Please note that these pages are from our old (pre-2010) website; the presentation of these pages may now appear outdated and may not always comply with current accessibility guidelines.


Book of the Month

June 2005

Glasgow/Northern Looking Glass

Glasgow: 1825-1826
Sp Coll Bh14-x.8

This month's choice is a caricature magazine that satirised the political and social life of Scotland in the 1820s. Conceived and illustrated by William Heath, the Glasgow Looking Glass ran for only 19 instalments. Featured here is a de-luxe hand coloured set of the first series of 17 issues. 

First page of Vol. 1., No. 1: Glasgow Looking Glass
June 11th, 1825

The first issue of the magazine appeared on 11 June, 1825. Produced fortnightly, it was printed by John Watson, one of Glasgow's early lithographic printers. After five issues, its name changed to the Northern Looking Glass, to reflect a more national coverage of events in Scotland. The final issue of this series appeared on 3 April, 1826. A further two issues of a 'new series' were produced by Richard Griffin and Co., but publication ceased altogether in June 1826.

The magazine is an early example of topical graphic journalism, a genre that became increasingly popular throughout the nineteenth century. While many of these satirical publications were short lived, several - such as Punch - became national institutions. Despite its name change, the content of our journal focuses predominantly on the eccentricities of Glasgow. In it, William Heath takes an irreverent view of the leading concerns and news of the time. As well as satirising political issues, he pokes fun at all levels of society, including the prevailing fashions and popular pursuits of the day. All in all, it provides us with a fascinating and entertaining - if somewhat skewed - view of Glaswegian life in the 1820s.

The 'prospectus' on the first page of the first issue encompasses its wide range of targets. The confused medley of figures includes the legs and posterior of George IV (projecting from behind the chest at the top), and the aristocratic sovereigns of Europe (the King of Prussia sits upon shackles, with the Emperor of Austria looking over his shoulder; besides him is Charles X of France in coronation robes; Alexander looks to the right, his arm linked with that of the King of Spain, who is depicted with the head of a mule), with Britannia beneath threatening them with her spear; she, in turn, is held up by a fat John Bull, a ragged Irish peasant and a Scot in Highland dress. Cats escape from a bag at the base.

Also illustrated on this page are promenaders in the Trongate showing off the latest fashions for June. The absurdities of the contemporary style are mocked in the exaggerated tailoring of the clothes, with elaborate frills and bows and impractically over-sized hats. Below this is shown an Egyptian sarcophagus from the Hunterian Museum, with a depiction of the mummy it contained, unbound to reveal a leering head. It is accompanied by a thirteen verse ode that fancifully imagines what secrets the mummy could relate if only it could talk. This is the Lady Shep-en-hor, still on display in the museum today.

Each issue is laid out to imitate the make up and contents of a contemporary newspaper. The usual elements - such as advertisements and regular features, including digests of domestic and foreign news - are pictorially and punningly illustrated. Here, for example, is a cartoon from a series entitled 'Domestic Intelligence', a play on the heading used for the section in a newspaper devoted to local news; in the Looking Glass, it is used to depict instead the trials and tribulations of family life. This example unhappily shows a dilapidated home that is anything but sweet. In the next cartoon from the series, shown below, a blacksmith fights with his wife in a smithy, while their daughter, unnoticed, drowns in a large tub of water.

Domestic Intelligence: Home, Sweet Home
From Vol. 1, No. 2: Glasgow Looking Glass
June 25th, 1825

Domestic Intelligence
From Vol. 1, No. 3: Glasgow Looking Glass
July 9th, 1825

The format of the magazine evolved throughout its short life. While the first seven issues were produced by lithography, the illustrations in later instalments were etched. Meanwhile, with number 9, letterpress printing was introduced for the final page of explanatory text. There was a choice of impressions available for each issue, at varying cost. At the lower end of the scale, a 'common' impression cost one shilling. By the end of the magazine's run, a 'beautifully coloured' copy cost six shillings. While the application of colour undoubtedly enlivens the caricatures, this was an expense that only the relatively well-to-do could have afforded. Although we have other copies of this journal in Special Collections, this is our only set of coloured issues.

William Heath (c.1795-1840), the artist who was responsible for the magazine, has been praised for his originality and fine draughtsmanship. Also known by the pseudonym 'Paul Pry', little is known about him. He dominated the field of caricature throughout the 1820s, but was later more prolific as an illustrator of colour plate books. According to John Strang's Glasgow and its clubs - that gossipy account of life in Glasgow during this period - Heath came to Glasgow from London to paint two or three large panoramas, as he had previously done in the metropolis, and caricatured the 'follies of the day' for his own entertainment. Although Strang describes Heath as having kept the citizens in 'roars of laughter', perhaps his ridicule of Glasgow was ultimately too cutting: certainly, by 1830 he had returned to London where he worked on a similar publication entitled The Looking Glass. This was another political newspaper, produced monthly, that was later known as Mclean's Looking Glass. Heath was eventually replaced by Robert Seymour as its major contributor. The first four issues of this publication are bound in at the beginning of our featured volume.

William Heath, the cartoonist, as a spider in his web
From back cover of bound volume

Vignette incorporating self-portrait of William Heath
From Vol. 1, no. 14: Northern Looking Glass (page 50)
9th January 1826


Some of the contemporary references in the journal are somewhat obscure today. This cartoon, for example, shows a minister leaping over the tower of St John's Parish Church in the Gallowgate. It refers to the vacillations of the Reverend Russel of Muthil, who accepted the invitation to become the minister, then declined the invitation, then expressed regret at his decision but when approached again, declined it for a second time. The notice on the pole in the foreground is a sarcastic comment on the situation, purporting to advertise a theatrical performance of 'Know your own mind'.

St John's Church, Glasgow
From Vol. 1, No. 16: Northern Looking Glass (page 60)
February 20, 1826

Summer Amusements
From Vol. 1, No. 6: Northern Looking Glass
18th August, 1825

The cartoon entitled 'Summer Amusements: Mackintosh's Waterproof Life Preserver' is an interpretation of a report in the Scots Mechanics Magazine about an inflatable rubber life saver, the latest invention from the Glasgow manufacturing chemist and inventor of rainproof cloth, Charles Macintosh (1766-1843). It was designed to be strapped around the chest under the arms, as shown most clearly on the figure of the man on the far left.

The cartoon depicts Glaswegians making good use of this invention in their social lives, by strapping on their life preservers and strolling, dancing and otherwise enjoying their summer leisure hours immersed in the river. One man has taken to the water to enjoy a tankard of beer and smoke his pipe. The Latin text accompanying the cartoon is Nantes in gurgite vasto, 'A few swimming in the vast deep'.

A Regular Row
From Vol. 1, no. 14: Northern Looking Glass (page 52)
9th January 1826

As well as one-off illustrations satirising the most recent events, several series of illustrations appear from issue to issue, similar to strip cartoons. This helps to give the publication continuity, and was perhaps an incentive for people to buy the next edition so that they could follow the 'stories'. The cartoon above is the fifth in a sequence depicting events in Glasgow at Hogmanay. Entitled 'A Regular Row', it shows a full scale battle breaking out in a Glasgow street amongst drunken revellers, intoxicated by cheap whisky.


This mayhem seems to belie Strang's assertion that the heavy drinking culture of the late eighteenth century had been replaced by a more temperate age by this time, so that 'the piano-forte was patronised at the expense of the punch-bowl', perhaps as optimistically illustrated here. Judging by the boredom of several members of the unlucky audience, it would seem that the real preference was still for grog rather than glees.

Amateur Concert
From Vol. 1, No. 11: Northern Looking Glass
November 28, 1825

Rival Lectures: Mechanics' Institution
From Vol. 1, no. 10: Northern Looking Glass (page 34)
November 14, 1825

As well as describing the various past-times of the day, the Looking Glass also records the contemporary thirst for self improvement. Rival lectures at Glasgow Institutions are shown here. Anderson's  was incorporated in 1797; its first Professor of Natural Philosophy, Dr Birbeck, was inspired to establish an elementary course of education for working men following his contact with the artisans he employed to make him equipment and apparatus. By 1823 this became the Mechanics' Institute. The difference in the social classes attending each institution is underlined here. The lecturer at Anderson's seems to have better scientific apparatus and more gas lights than his counterpart. His audience (of both men and women) are the better dressed and more attentive. The accompanying text appears to refer to a recurring middle class concern of the period, that the education of the 'lower orders' in Glasgow might threaten the social position of their 'betters', the point being made that 'the social equilibrium cannot be maintained, unless the higher ranks keep in intellectual advance of the lower'. It is heartening to know, however, that Birbeck's project was later deemed to be eminently successful.

Rival Lectures: Anderson's Institution
From Vol. 1, no. 10: Northern Looking Glass (page 34)
November 14, 1825

Consumption of Smoke: Present
From Vol. 1, no. 8: Northern Looking Glass
17th September 1825

Consumption of Smoke: Future
From Vol. 1, no. 8: Northern Looking Glass
17th September 1825

Another two part portrayal of Glasgow life highlights the terrible pollution that the city endured in the nineteenth century. 'Consumption of Smoke: Present' refers to a letter written by Glasgow's Superintendent of Public Works, James Cleland, published as Letter to the Hon Mungo Nutter Campbell, of St. Catherine's, Lord Provost of Glasgow ... respecting the consumption of smoke, in the furnaces of steam engines about the need to address the growing problem of pollution. The cartoon presents an exaggerated view of the problem, showing birds falling dead from the sky, and people in the streets coughing, wheezing and groping their way through the toxic fumes. The ironic memorial plaque on the chimney on the left reads "Mem. Pos. Jac. Watt" - an ironic reference to James Watt, the pioneer of the steam engine who was ultimately responsible for the smoke nuisance. In 'Future', we see the Glasgow that will be if Cleland's advice on controlling smoke emissions is followed. Happy citizens stroll in the clear air, admiring abundant vegetation and bird life. One bird roosts contentedly in its nest on a factory chimney.

Another entertaining - if somewhat terrifying - series of ten cartoons satirises modern medical education. The first, entitled 'The Alarm, or the Kirkyard in Danger', refers to the problem of grave robbing. It depicts two skeletons marching through a church graveyard, followed by a mob. Their flag bears the legend 'Popular Anatomy Mechanics' Institution'. The exhumation and sale of bodies to anatomists was a burning question in Glasgow in the 1820s, there being an insatiable demand from the city's competing medical schools for fresh cadavers which could be used in the teaching of dissection. Although the bodies of criminals executed for murder were generally given for this purpose, there were simply not enough to meet the need of students who often resorted to becoming resurrectionists themselves. Such was the problem that in 1803 the University had to call in soldiers to prevent the College buildings from being wrecked by a protesting mob. It was later ordained that any student found guilty of exhumation should be expelled. The threat of expulsion did little to stop the practice, however. The situation was not relieved until the Anatomy Act was passed in 1832.

Essay on Modern Medical Education, No. 1
The Alarm, or the Kirk Yard in Danger
From Vol. 1, no. 6: Northern Looking Glass
18th August 1825

Essay on Modern Medical Education, No. 2
The Dead Association
From Vol. 1, no. 6: Northern Looking Glass
18th August 1825

Essay on Modern Medical Education, No. 3
Watching and Waiting
From Vol. 1, no. 6: Northern Looking Glass
18th August 1825

The second cartoon in the series, 'the Dead Association', may be referring to funeral clubs. Men joined these friendly societies to contribute to a common fund that would meet the expense of their burials, in an age where there was a morbid fear of dying penniless and being consigned to a pauper's grave. Like many mutual societies of the day they were often an excuse for socialising and for heavy drinking. The next scene depicts attempts to counteract bodysnatching. In 1823 the 'North Quarter Friendly Churchyard Guard Association' was formed with the purpose of watching the High Church burying ground at night to prevent the violation of graves. Those on watch were authorised to carry batons or cudgels. The people depicted here have turned their vigil into a night of drinking and merriment. While they carouse, the resurrectionists have exhumed a body and are sneaking it over the kirkyard wall.

Essay on Modern Medical Education, No. 4
The Lecture Room
From Vol. 1, no. 7: Northern Looking Glass
3rd September 1825

At this time, Professor Jeffray held the Chair of Anatomy and Physiology at Glasgow University, a position that he held for 58 years. His courses were undoubtedly popular and successful. From 1824 to 1829, there were over 200 students enrolled for Anatomy annually. Not surprisingly, Jeffray complained to the University Commission of 1825 of his difficulty in obtaining 'subjects'. A man of some notoriety, it is said that he was personally involved in bodysnatching, and some of his other actions also came in for criticism. In 1818, he was the last man to anatomise and dissect in public the body of a murderer, Matthew Clydesdale, who had been hanged. He went about this theatrically, stimulating the corpse with electrics causing it to sit up; he then cut the neck with a knife and the corpse fell to the ground. It is said that several members of his audience fainted. It is probably not a coincidence that no more bodies were sent for public dissection after this.

The fourth scene from the series depicts a lecture on anatomy, complete with gruesome specimens. The students do not seem to be taking their teacher very seriously.

Essay on Modern Medical Education, No. 5
The Shop
From Vol. 1, no. 7: Northern Looking Glass
3rd September 1825

The questionable morals and competence of medical students was a grave concern that is touched upon in the subsequent cartoons. To the left, the students are shown getting up to high jinks in an apothecary's shop.

Essay on Modern Medical Education, No. 6
The Graduation
From Vol. 1, no. 7: Northern Looking Glass
3rd September 1825

The students are then illustrated at their graduation ceremony. Crying Medicus sum! ('I am a doctor!'), one is being capped with a dunce's hat.

Essay on Modern Medical Education, No. 7
Preparing for Practice
From Vol. 1, no. 8: Northern Looking Glass
17th September 1825

Essay on Modern Medical Education, No. 9
Actual Practice
From Vol. 1, no. 8: Northern Looking Glass
17th September 1825

In 'Preparing for Practice', young doctors hone their dubious skills by practicing vivisection and experimenting on animals. A dog has been provided with artificial legs, a monkey has its arm in a sling, a hole is drilled into the skull of a sheep, and a cat has its internal organs explored while strapped to an operating table. Even more horrifying, in the next scene a trainee surgeon is shown amputating the lower leg of an un-anaesthetised patient with an axe. Anaesthetics were not available in the operating theatres of Scottish hospitals prior to the introduction of ether in the 1840s. The unfortunate patient shown here is strapped to the operating table and held down by an assistant. The trauma of amputation without anaesthetic was often enough in itself to hasten the death of a patient, and the cartoonist has drawn some coffins propped against the wall nearby, ready for use.

Essay on Modern Medical Education, No. 9
Practical Results: At Home
From Vol. 1, no. 8: Northern Looking Glass
17th September 1825

Essay on Modern Medical Education, No. 10
Practical Results: Abroad
From Vol. 1, no. 8: Northern Looking Glass
17th September 1825

The series on medical education ends with two cartoons that satirise the 'practical results' of the medics. Skeletons tend to the patients 'at home'. Heath may well be referring to the horrific conditions in the fever wards at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary during one of the many typhus and other fever epidemics of the 1820s, when mortality rates were high among patients and staff alike. Meanwhile, 'abroad', field surgeons attempt to re-assemble the body parts of soldiers shockingly mutilated by enemy fire. War service with the army and Royal Navy was an excellent proving ground for the surgeon, offering him the opportunity to practice surgery on maimed and wounded men. Many Glasgow surgeons in the 1820s had served in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars of 1793-1815, and many more would serve in the future, most notably during the Crimean War of 1853-1856. It was such wars and the need for doctors that made medicine such a popular choice of career at this time.

Advertisement: Drawing Class
rom Vol. 1, No. 3: Glasgow Looking Glass
July 9th, 1825

The images displayed here from the Looking Glass were originally captured for inclusion on TheGlasgowStory, the searchable website that tells the story of Glasgow in words and pictures. Much of the information provided in this article is drawn from the research undertaken for this project, and some of the captions accompanying the images have been reproduced here almost in their entirety. Grateful thanks is given to Iain Russell, the project editor, for permission to re-use the material in this way. More images from the journal, together with explanatory text, are available from the TheGlasgowStory website (use the search term 'Glasgow looking glass'), as well as much more information on the history of Glasgow.


Return to main Special Collections Exhibition Page
Go to Book of the Month Archive

Julie Gardham June 2005