ABSTRACT – ARTHUR MORELAND – HUMOURS OF HISTORY Promoting itself as a collection of 160 humorous drawings covering the whole of history from dinosaurs in London to the end of World War One. Each drawing comes with a paragraph of explanatory notes, later, as the artist/author gets to the horrors of the war; the drawings are left to speak for themselves. Drawings are richly detailed, though sometimes with anomalies, deliberately added for satire, such as modern police Bobbies taking part in the arrests of medieval felons. This makes it difficult to tell whether Vikings with horned helmets are a joke to Moreland, or a genuine mistaken assumption, as many people today still believe that the Vikings had such horns. Sometimes the humour is not very apparent. There is a brutal depiction of a druid sacrifice. A man at Stonehenge is sandwiched between two large rocks while an axe man prepares to sever his head. Other times it is obvious, if occasionally oddly placed. King Canute tries to stem the tide on a crowded seaside beach, complete with concrete promenade and pier. In an earlier carton history has been confused with mythology as Moreland shows how King Arthur extracted Excalibur from the stone. He is seen using a powerful winch. This is probably the funniest cartoon in the book, but it’s hardly history. Other statements are more overtly political. Napoleon’s retreat from Waterloo shows soldiers running on foot while Napoleon gets to escape in a luxurious horse drawn carriage. There are some spectacular scenes, such as the 1087 siege of Rochester Castle piece, with scaling ladders rising and falling, and the men who have fallen from the battlements sitting up rubbing their sore heads. Of course, they would have been lucky to survive such a plummeting.
In his drawing for the 1666 Great Fire Of London, Moreland shows firemen behaving like Keystone Cops, hosing each other rather than the flames engulfing the city as the King (Charles the Second) watches. Sometimes major events are skipped over. The signing of Magna Carta is avoided, but King John losing his crown in The Wash is depicted. The book provides all sorts of little known facts too. Glass windows were introduced to British houses in 1180 AD, before that, parchment covered windows when people wanted privacy. The drawing for this depicts a fox crashing into a dining room though the glass, presumably having only torn through paper screening on previous intrusions. The Great War has two drawings. The first, the Beginning, shows the Kaiser surrounded by dozens of cannon barrels ready to fire at his command. The second, appropriately called The End shows a pitiable figure in rags in a muddy field full of human bones and skulls. Behind him a castle burns. This isn’t satire, but a statement on the horrors of war. An interesting and rare book by a great cartoonist of the Edwardian era, who is long overdue for a reappraisal. The work originally appeared in the Daily News. Moreland produced other collections, several in colour which are often confused with this one, which is mostly in Black and white with occasional colour tinting.