Petticoat Loose: A Fragmentary "Tale of the Castle."


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(ROWLANDSON, Thomas). Petticoat Loose: A Fragmentary “Tale of the Castle.” Embellished with Plates. London: J.J. Stockdale, 1812. Slim quarto, original marbled boards rebacked in brown buckram.

First edition of this poetic satire on the “deplorable” Irish union with England, loosely based on the old Irish legend of Mary Hannigan (nicknamed “Petticoat Loose”), with hand-colored frontispiece and five full-page hand-colored etchings (one double-page) by Thomas Rowlandson. Extra-illustrated with engravings of “Mrs. Clarke” and “Napoleone [sic] Buonaparte.”

The original tale of “Petticoat Loose,” on which this present poem is loosely based, involves Mary Hannigan, known for her ability to spin and whirl around a dance floor. Mary was able to drink as well as she could dance, and on one occasion, as she spun wildly in a drunken dance, the buttons of her skirt caught on a nail, dropping her skirt to the floor (hence “Petticoat Loose”). Not long after, Mary went on a binge and was challenged by local workmen to prove her drinking skills. She promptly downed a half a gallon of beer and had begun to gloat, when she suddenly slumped forward— dead. The local priest banished her corrupted soul to a remote lake in the Knockmealdown Mountains, thereafter thought to be haunted. This present poem begins with an episode in a “Dublin Castle drawing room” (similar to Mary’s dropped skirt), but proceeds in a completely unrelated direction— until the end. “Our readers will be surprised that this poem is of a political cast— and deplores, and deplores, and deplores, the effects of the Union with England. [It] bears some analogy to things passing in London— by way of displaying the author’s abilities at exposing those just objects of satire we have so frequently witnessed and bewailed” (Charles Taylor). Rowlandson’s “rollicking humour and delicate tonal effects were distinctively English.” As “the pictorial chronicler of the hard-hitting, hard-drinking age,” Rowlandson stood at “the foremost ranks of what was then one of the most popular departments of pictorial art” (Oxford Dictionary of Art, 436). Some interleaving toward the end, presumably for mounting extra illustrations. Not in Tooley.

Light offsetting of plates to text, two-inch tear to fold of double-page plate, minor edge-wear to original boards. A very scarce Rowlandson item.

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