Tettenhall parish officers clearly purchased their stationary from tradesmen who stocked a variety of exercise books, decorated or illustrated in different ways. Most of these feature apparently anodyne and uncontroversial scenes of rural life or of stock characters. An earlier blog entry addresses the now forgotten ‘Gilpin’s Ride’. But a recent find on the cover of a book containing accounts from the 1810s and 1820s surprised me.
This image clearly relates to recent history, given the costumes of the two most prominent figures, and seems to depict Napoleon’s north African campaign of 1798-9 if the crude sphinx on the left of the image is indicative. What is not clear is who has poisoned whom. The sick languish on the right of the frame, but they are drawn so generically as to offer few clues. There were some accounts of local African people poisoning wells at the French army’s approach, but the European figure in the doorway is sufficiently furtive to suggest that the origins of the poison may have been closer to home.
Even given the enmity between the French and the British in the early nineteenth century, this seems a particularly bitter choice of picture for the front cover of an exercise book.