John Wilson Bengough

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John Wilson Bengough
John Wilson Bengough.jpg
John Wilson Bengough
Born (1851-04-07)7 April 1851
Toronto, Province of Canada
Died 2 October 1923(1923-10-02) (aged 72)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Occupation
  • Cartoonist
  • Editor
  • Poet
  • Politician
  • Publisher
  • Writer

John Wilson Bengough (/ˈbɛn.ɡɔːf/, 7 April 1851 – 2 October 1923) was one of Canada's first cartoonists, as well as an editor, publisher, writer, poet, entertainer and politician. Bengough is best known for his biting political cartoons which ran in Grip, a humour magazine he published and edited, and which was modeled after the British humour magazine Punch.

Personal history[edit]

The second of six children,[1] John Wilson Bengough was born into a deeply Protestant family[2] on 7 April 1851 in Toronto, Province of Canada. His parents were John Bengough, a Scottish immigrant cabinetmaker,[3] and Margaret Wilson, an Irish immigrant.[4] The family soon moved to nearby port town Whitby, where job opportunities beckoned surrounding the construction of Trafalgar Castle, the residence of Nelson Gilbert Reynolds, Sheriff of Ontario County. The elder Bengough later opened a shop in Whitby.[3]

Bengough attended Whitby Grammar School, where he was an average student.[1] He was an avid sketcher,[5] a talent which caught the notice of his teacher, who presented his student with a set of paints one Christmas. This act Bengough credited with setting him on the career path of an artist.[1] He described himself as a "voracious reader", particularly of the Whitby Gazette, a didactic weekly that stressed Christian values.[2]

Black-and-white caroon of a ring of men, each pointing to the next in the ring.  At the bottom is written "Tammany Ring".
"Who stole the people's money?" — "'Twas him."
Thomas Nast's cartoons of the corruption in Tammany Hall contributed to the fall of Boss Tweed, and inspired Bengough to bring political cartooning to Canada.

After graduation, Bengough tried his hand at a number of jobs, including photographer's assistant,[6] and he articled to a lawyer for some time[4] before getting a typesetting job at the Whitby Gazette. While there, he submitted short, local-interest articles. In mid-1870, Gazette publisher George Ham issued a four-page daily to capitalize on interest in the Franco-Prussian War, and commissioned Bengough to provide a serialized novel for it. The popular reception of The Murderer's Scalp (or The Shrieking Ghost of the Bloddy Den) encouraged Bengough to devote himself to a journalism career. The papers and magazines that came into the Gazette offices, in particular Harper's Weekly, introduced Bengough to the growing field of cartooning. Bengough reminisced, "I divided my time between mechanical duties for sordid wages and poetry for the good of humanity, and meanwhile I kept an eye on Thomas Nast the cartoonist."[6] The politically and socially aware cartoonist of Nast he considered a "beau ideal"; Nast's "moral crusade against abject wrong"—in particular his relentless Boss Tweed cartoons—inspired the young Bengough to "emulate Nast in the field of Canadian politics".[7]

At twenty he moved to Toronto and became a reporter on politician George Brown's newspaper The Globe. He was disappointed in the lack of cartooning opportunities, and enrolled briefly in the Ontario School of Art, whose pedantry he found stifling. A caricature of editor James Beaty, Sr. of the conservative Toronto Leader won Bengough praise, and rather than give up on seeking cartooning jobs, he had "a happy thought ... Why not start a weekly comic paper with lithographed cartoons?"[8]

A raven character in the Charles Dickens novel Barnaby Rudge inspired the name of the magazine Grip. Its pages carried political and social commentary and cartoons, and its 24 May 1873 debut issue declared: "Grip will be entirely independent and impartial, always and on all subjects." Bengough set the editorial policy and was the lead cartoonist.[9]

A black-and-white cartoon of a late-middle-aged man standing atop a woman labeled "Canada".  His arms are spread and he smiles.  On one hand is written "I need another $10,000", and in the other hand is a piece of paper on which is written, "Prorogation and suppression of the investigation".
"Whither are we drifting?" (16 August 1873)
John A. Macdonald proclaims "These hands are clean!"—scrawled on his hand is the message "I need another $10,000" that he had written to Hugh Allan.

Grip's early issues attracted little notice. Events arising from the Canadian federal election of 1872 shortly gave Bengough sufficient popular material to lampoon: accusations of bribery and other improprieties involving prime minister John A. Macdonald and business magnate Hugh Allan inflated into the Pacific Scandal, the most closely followed scandal in the young nation's history. Macdonald's features lent themselves easily to caricature and gave Bengough the chance to proselytize.[10] A 23 August 1873 cartoon entitled "The Beauties of a Royal Commission: When shall we three meet again?" drew praise from newspapers across Canada, as well as from Liberal MP Lucius Seth Huntington in a speech to the House of Commons.[11]

After the early 1890s depression drove Grip to cease publication, he worked for the next quarter-century as a newspaper cartoonist for the Toronto Globe, Toronto Daily Star, Saturday Night and the Montreal Star.

Bengough died of a heart attack at his drawing board at his home while working on a cartoon in support of an anti-smoking campaign.[4]

Cartoons[edit]

Bengough's cartooning was for the most part in the realm of political cartoons, and tended towards being preachy and didactic. He believed "that the legitimate forces of humor and caricature can and ought to serve the state in its highest interests, and that the comic journal which has no other aim than to amuse its readers for the moment, falls short of its highest mission".[4]

His sketchy cartoons, while often drawn well, were crowded in composition, and sometimes were borrowed from other sources. He could draw in contrasting styles, as evidenced by cartoons he did under the pseudonym of L. Côté.[4]

His cartoons are best remembered for fixing his renditions of Sir John A. Macdonald in the public imagination.[4]

Politics[edit]

A black-and-white cartoon of a man teaching two parrots to say, "The was nothing wrong in the Pacific Scandal.  The indignation of the people was all a mistake!"
John A. Macdonald was a favourite target of Bengough's, notably during the Pacific Scandal.

There was a premier named John A.
Who, wishing in office to stay,
To one Allen did barter a great railway charter—
And dated his ruin from that day.

—John Wilson Bengough, "Recollections of a Cartoonist", Bengough Papers, Volume VIII[12]

Bengough's reputation was a supporter of the Liberal Party of Canada and its pro-democratic platform. His association with the Liberals was so strong that Charles Tupper quipped in Parliament that Grip should change its name to Grit—a popular nickname for Liberal Party members. His best-remembered targets were those aimed at Macdonald and the Conservatives, but his criticisms aimed at Liberals as well—Edward Blake had his subscription cancelled when he was the victim of a particular cartoon.[13]

Bengough had ambitions to run for Parliament, but Wilfrid Laurier convinced him against it. Grip's political stance was one of disinterest, but a large portion of Bengough's income came from Liberal publications, and Sir John A. Macdonald and his Conservative Party were favourite targets of Bengoughs cartoon attacks, notably during the Pacific Scandal.[4]

Bengough showed a marked ethnic nationalism, in that he promoted English as the nation's sole official language, and the separation of church and state, a view that was directed particularly at the Catholic, French-speaking Québécois, declaring he looked forward to:

when the monstrosity of a double official language and dual schools will be done away with throughout the whole country. Our real national life will date from that day.

—John Wilson Bengough, 7 April 1851, [4]

While he sympathized with the plight of Canada's native peoples, he condemned the 1885 Red River Rebellion and called for the execution of Métis rebel leader Louis Riel, and celebrated Major-General Frederick Dobson Middleton's victory at the Battle of Batoche in Saskatchewan with a poem.[4]

Bengough proclaimed a Protestant work ethic widely expressed by Canadian artists and intellectuals of the late 19th century.[14] In his writing he frequently made statements about the role of Man in God's world,[15] and insisted that politics should conform to the will of God.[16] His didactic cartoons he intended to impart moral instruction.[17]

Personal life[edit]

Bengough married twice, first to Helena (Nellie) Siddall in Toronto on 30 June 1880, then to Annie Robertson Matteson in Chicago on 18 June 1908. Neither marriage produced children.[4]

Legacy[edit]

The small town of Bengough, Saskatchewan, incorporated 15 March 1912, was named after the cartoonist.[18]

The Art Gallery of Ontario presented an exhibition of Bengough's drawings in 1969.

Bengough was inducted into the Canadian Cartoonist Hall of Fame in 2005.

Published works[edit]

  • (1875). The Grip Cartoons. Rogers and Larminie[19]
  • (1876). The Decline and Fall of Keewatin. Grip Publishing Co.[19]
  • (1882). Bengough's Popular Readings: Original and Select: Bengough, Moore and Bengough[19]
  • (1886). A Caricature History of Canadian Politics (two volumes). The Grip Publishing and Printing Co.[19]
  • (1895). Motley: Verse Grave and Gay. William Briggs[19]
  • (1896). The Up-to-date Primer. Funk and Wagnalls[19]
  • (1897).[citation needed] The Prohibition Aesop. Royal Templar Book and Publishing House[19]
  • (1898). The Gin Mill Primer. William Briggs[19]
  • (1902). In Many Keys. William Briggs[19]
  • (1908). The Whole Hog Book. American Free Trade League[19]
  • (1908). On True Political Economy
  • (1922). Chalk Talks. The Musson Book Co.[19]

No copies remain of comic opera Hecuba; or Hamlet's Father's Deceased Wife's Sister, a comic opera with score by G. Barton Brown. Publisher F.F. Siddall registered it for copyright in 1885. The opera may have been an earlier version of Puffe and Co., or Hamlet, Prince of Dry Goods, an undated and possibly unpublished script for which exists, for which Clarence Lucas had written a score that Bengough appears to have rejected.[20]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Kutcher 1975, p. 4.
  2. ^ a b Kutcher 1975, p. 5.
  3. ^ a b Kutcher 1975, p. 3.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Cook 2005.
  5. ^ Kutcher 1975, p. 6.
  6. ^ a b Kutcher 1975, p. 7.
  7. ^ Kutcher 1975, pp. 7–8.
  8. ^ Kutcher 1975, p. 8.
  9. ^ Kutcher 1975, pp. 8–9.
  10. ^ Kutcher 1975, pp. 12–13.
  11. ^ Kutcher 1975, p. 14.
  12. ^ Kutcher 1975, p. 11.
  13. ^ Kutcher 1975, pp. 10–12.
  14. ^ Kutcher 1975, pp. 128–129.
  15. ^ Kutcher 1975, p. 130.
  16. ^ Kutcher 1975, p. 18.
  17. ^ Kutcher 1975, p. 19.
  18. ^ McLennan 2008, p. 27.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Kutcher 1975, p. 267.
  20. ^ Hadfield 2004.

Works cited[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]