The Second Epistle of Joe Muggins’ Dog

Philip Jeffs resumes his Glazebrook-Rylands blog with another fictional character used to insult politicians…

You may remember that in my blog entry about the “Warrington Menagerie”, a political poster describing Whig politicians as if they were animals in a travelling zoo, I mentioned another tactic often used by Victorian Warrington’s political campaigners. That tactic was to describe their opponents as horses in a fictional race.

The item I am going to show you today uses this ‘horse race’ tactic. It also shows another feature common in Warrington’s election material, the use of a fictional character to pass on the insults about your opponent.

As you can see from the flyer, the fictional character in this case, is Joe Muggins’ Dog. Throughout the 1860s there was a whole series of handbills issued under the pseudonym of this dog. Usually the Joe Muggins’ Dog flyers take the form of a cheeky scrappy little dog giving betting tips to would be punters. The horses are politicians and the punter is you, the voter.

Using these comical characters in their electioneering campaigns allowed politicians to insult their opponents in ways they would never dare directly. They always have the defence that “it wasn’t me that said it, it was the talking dog”.

The use of these comical depictions always puts me in mind of Spitting Image, where politicians must have been fuming, but couldn’t really say anything or they would be fuelling the fire of publicity and seeming humourless at the same time. Instead they had to say how comical they found it and how much they enjoyed being mocked (usually say it very unconvincingly).

Of course there is a great difference between these electioneering pamphlets and the public satire we see today. The items in this collection were, by and large, produced by one political party as an attack on another, there is no even handedness in their attacks and their purpose is not primarily to entertain, but to gain votes.

This particular letter from Joe Muggins’ Dog, appears to be primarily anti Tory in its content, though the Whigs do not go entirely uncriticised. Because of this I would speculate that it may have been produced by a left-leaning independent for the Borough Elections, but of course it is hard to tell when everything is anonymous.

In this example, the flyer is written as if the dog is a racing pundit giving tips to a punter. As with other items in the collection, the identity of the people being criticised and the criticism of them are both slightly veiled, though to a reader of the day it seems likely that the person referred to would be clear (it just poses a bit of a task for me 150 years later).

There are quite a few potential councillors alluded to in the flyer, but the reason I have looked at this item as part of the Glazebrook Rylands project is because of a horse named “Peter the Great”. This seems to refer to Petr Rylands a Liberal candidate in the town at the time.

The general tone of the comments on Peter are positive, with passages such as “I believe this Peter is a good horse, makes an excellent leader; but parties who intend to back him must take the hint and see that he comes on the field in good health and free from ginger; and I hope for once you shall see Pretty Peter made to gallop”.

Despite this, Peter is not left uncriticised. We have what appears to be a reference to the Radicals in the form of another horse from his stable “Window Smasher by Hollow Belly”, linking more moderate liberals to more extreme Radicals. The Liberal party had been formed not long before this out of the Whigs and the Radicals.

We also have a reference to the ever-present Irish problems that plagued the Liberal party in comments such as “remember Peter the Great carries 14lbs extra for taking once the Kilkenny cup”, seeming to suggest that Peter’s stance relating to Ireland may have hindered his chances in Warrington.

Earlier in his career, as a Whig, Peter had supported Home Rule for the Irish. By the time of this flyer, in the 1860s, his opinions seem to have changed. Later in his career, Peter actually breaks away from the Liberal Party altogether over their support for Home Rule.

This article was originally posted on Thursday, August 27th, 2015.