Caricaturists versus Ultramontanism and its supporters: La Lune versus Veuillot.

Nineteenth century caricaturists sought to undermine popular respect for the figures they opposed politically or socially by ridiculing them in the public eye. Their caricatures exposed through mockery the worst side of the targeted individual, in the process making him or her appear both morally and physically disgusting. They made allusions to their target’s malicious character or behaviour by symbolically representing moral flaws through belittling physical deformity. Many caricaturists supported the opposition parties to first the Restoration and July monarchies, then the second Bonapartist empire and finally the conservative governments of the early Third Republic. They also participated in the various revolutions and anarchic movements over the nineteenth century. Their social and political enemies came from the traditionally privileged classes of the ancien régime (the aristocrats and the clergy) and the more recently elevated industrial wealth of the upper bourgeoisie and the military.

A favourite target was the Catholic Church and, in particular, the members of the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits, more than any other Catholic denomination in France, were accused of desiring world domination, of being power hungry manipulators who ingratiated themselves amidst the ruling and wealthy elite to govern from behind the throne. Their strong connection to the pope and Ultramontanism also suggests an encroaching force likely to wipeout French independence from the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope. For Republicans, the encroaching influence of the Jesuits, especially over education, also signified a threat to the progress made by the French Revolution1. More generally, the Catholic Church, through its historical links with the monarchy and the aristocracy, represented the absolutism and obscurantism of the ancien régime which, to the enlightened politicians of the nineteenth century, were the anathema of the democratic system they wanted to protect2. One particular fear inherited from the 1789 Revolution was the danger of smaller associations breaking apart the unity of the French society. The Republic was built on the ideology of a single sovereign body of citizens to replace the ancien régime sovereign united and embodied in the King. Catholic congregations like the Jesuits threatened this unity by offering an alternative identity for its votaries, dividing their allegiance from the Republic itself to the Pope in Rome3. While the Catholic Church itself was recognised as the religion of the majority of the French people, Republicans distrusted the Pope’s influence and sought to undermine the clergy’s influence in education so that the next generation of French children would be raised seeing themselves primarily as French citizens rather than Catholics.

Louis Veuillot (1813-1883) was a principal spokesman for the Catholic Church in the lay press and fought against this secularising campaign. A devout catholic after his conversion in 1838, Veuillot was greatly enamoured with Rome and the Pope4. He coordinated the Jesuit comeback and the Ultramontanist (literally ‘over the mountains’ or taking direction from the Pope) campaign against Gallicism, a French Catholic denomination entirely independent from the Pope. His mouthpiece was l’Univers, a journal of which he took over the editorship in 1840. It was suppressed in 1860 (for criticising the emperor Louis Napoléon) and relaunched in 1867 after the relaxation of press laws under the Second empire5. Through this organ, he repeatedly smeared and criticised the Republican press and, in particular, the profession of caricature as an unworthy subform of journalism.

On the 22 November 18706, Veuillot wrote a letter to Jules Favre (the vice-president and minister of foreign affairs of the government of national defence during the Prussian occupation of France 1870-1871) to complain about the rampant caricature journals insulting Pius IX (p. 311)7 and the former empress Eugénie (p. 309). In this letter, Veuillot does not just criticise caricaturists, who he calls “un drôle pétri de boue, de soif et d’envie” (p. 307), but the whole concept of caricature as a degraded form of entertainment showing the extent of moral deprivation in republican France. Caricature, as he described it, is a madman’s view of the world, one better kept behind bars in lunatic hospitals and not released to be examined in the street. Veuillot graphically explained that such a dangerous influence risked releasing “[d]’épouvantables contagions éclateraient aussitôt, qui emporteraient la police, la civilisations et le genre humain.” (p. 306). France, and Paris in particular, was thus threatened by a pernicious disease, a theme which is reinforced by his evocation of prostitutes as an example of moral depravation. He described caricature journals as wholly devoted to prostitution and pornography. They legitimised prostitution as a profession and as a moral code, making prostitutes more influential on popular morality than the Church.

It is clear in his letter that he saw the more relaxed morality presented in the caricatures as a direct threat to the pedagogical influence of the Catholic Church. As a visual medium, caricature could replace the religious iconography and architecture of the churches as an influence over the people. In the climax of his letter (coming right at the end after a long rhetorical preparation, see p. 311), he hyperbolically expressed his shock and horror that the caricaturists were allowed to insult the Pope. The attack’s the government’s honour by asking why the pope was not spared when the government was able to prevent itself and its international allies from slander. This suggested that members of government were conniving with the madmen so that they were shown in praiseworthy poses while he and his fellow Catholics suffered “le soufflet qui tue plus surement que l’épée” (p. 310).

This diatribe represents the vulnerability he felt as an ultramontane Catholic, alienated from the Republic and the society that was more or less unfavourable to renewing close ties to the Pope. Ultramontanists, as Veuillot denounces in his letter, were generally persecuted by anti-religious comments from republic’s leaders: Garibaldi, Mazini, Sénart, Jules Simon etc. (p. 312). Several attempts were made over the century to enshrine in law a perceived separation between the Jesuits and other Catholic groups8. Such persecution was seen as the victory and legacy of the 1789 revolution over the true Christian doctrine, leading to, in Veuillot’s view, the inevitable destruction of France’s moral and social fabric. Veuillot’s letter used the Prussian conquest as an example of France getting her just deserts.

Accepting caricatures, for Veuillot, ultimately meant forcing citizens to accept without protest insults widely disseminated for public mockery. These same insults, he protests, would not have gone unchallenged should they have been made to the victims’ faces. Caricaturists, he claimed, came from and were in league with “la populace” (p. 308) or the scum of the city9. The humour for which the caricaturists were proud belonged only to the sewers, so to speak, making caricatures no better than ignorant and rude graffiti. Veuillot’s grievances were probably motivated by a desire for personal as well as institutional revenge. For his criticisms, he was repeatedly target of the caricaturist André Gill (Louis-Alexandre Gosset de Guînes, 1840-1885) and the writers of the caricature journal La Lune and its successor L’Éclipse.

Possibly, he felt threatened by such ridiculing exposure before the masses, including his fellow catholics whose support he sought in his ultramontanist campaigning. He had good reason: the nineteenth century marked a boom in public consumption of and appetite for images. As the lithographic technology gradually improved to make the creation and dissemination of prints more and more accessible, enjoying caricatures became the occupation of a much wider pool of readers10. As the top line of La Lune suggests, its print runs went up to 40 000 or more. As issues of the journal were sold to reader cafes, the actual readership would probably have been much higher. Veuillot’s fears for the damage an unflattering caricature might do to his reputation were not unfounded.

Veuillot used the law to avenge the offence of being caricatured (La Lune, 21st April, 1867, no. 59), exploiting a rule which insisted that the caricaturist had to get permission from the subject to do a portrait chargé or a caricature directed at a single person. Veuillot, in an article condemning caricature as an illegitimate form of journalism11, claimed that his permission had not been adequately sought because he only gave verbal, not written consent. Despite La Lune’s defence that Veuillot had indeed given consent and the vocal backing of several left wing journals12, Veuillot successfully won his prosecution case. In fact, as Veuillot himself revealed in L’Univers, he had said, when he gave his “consent”, that he would not bring the caricaturists to court for whatever they published despite not giving them the written consent required by law. The head editor of La Lune, François Polo, was condemned to a month in prison and a 100 fr fine on the 10th May 186713. Veuillot claimed that his reason for offence was not personal but on behalf of his religion which he saw as grossly ridiculed and belittled in the caricature. For this reason, he claimed, he wanted the caricature to be banned by the censors, that they should only permit insults to his person and not to his religion.

Louis Veuillot
Figure 1: Louis Veuillot by Gill, (La Lune, no. 59, 21st April 1867, dir. F. Polo).

In the caricature of Louis Veuillot (figure 1), he has been given wings and a halo whilst taking the stance of a boxer, apparently fighting off attacks on Catholicism14. Veuillot used these props to pretend outrage that the archangels of God should be so diminished by the inclusion of a mere human being in their ranks. This was a show of mock humility that was quickly exposed as such by La Lune. The journal claimed that Veuillot was only making recourse to such formal reasons for prosecution to hide his own very personal mortification. They ridiculed him by exposing him as a hypocrite capable of making offensive criticisms but incapable of receiving the like in return. Amongst the portraits chargés in other issues of La Lune whose subjects graciously accepted the satirical attacks made on them, the pugilistic journalist appeared disarmed by the revelation that he was too sensitive to thoroughly engage in the fight.

La Lune, it its ironic comebacks, revealed the depth of the anger and sense of purpose felt by the Republican caricaturists who targeted the Catholic Church through its most vocal spokespeople. By evoking the persecution of protestants in Flandres and their response of turning the insult back on the Catholics15, the journal implied that it was assuming the historic role (“à notre tour”) of fighting religious repression and obscurantism. 

Far from accepting Veuillot’s criticism that caricature was a debased form of journalism, they assumed the condescending title he gave them (“les gens de ces choses-là”) as a badge of honour:

“Si par “ces choses-là” il entend le courage qu’il y a toujours eu, dans le Paris de M. Louis Veuillot, comme dans la Rome de Pasquine, à se moquer de ce qui est ridicule, grotesque, mesquin, vil, faux, étroit, rampant, oblique, vaniteux, insolent, brutal, hypocrite et odieux, tout en respectant ce qui est réellement respectable et en conservant dans l’exercise de cette prérogative de la santé, de l’esprit et du corps, – le rire – la mesure, el tact et le goût dont ne se départ jamais l’écrivain bien élevé, sincère jusqu’en son ironie, soucieux de sa dignité et de celle des lettres… Si, dis-je, c’est cet ensemble de qualités – ou de défauts qu’il a prétendu désigner … a raison … Nous sommes en effet LES GENS DE CES CHOSES-LA.

The criticisms levelled at Veuillot echo more general objections to hypocrisy, self-righteousness and casuistry perceived to be inherent in Catholicism. Veuillot was a greater target than most because he seemed to betray the profession of journalism by promoting an order which encouraged obscurantism and censorship. For the journalists and caricaturists still fighting against government censorship, Veuillot’s campaign threatened to undermine the Republican freedoms they were trying to protect. This sense of purpose implies that the Republican satirists and caricaturists felt themselves to be the direct descendants of the Revolutionary journalists and enlightenment thinkers of the eighteenth century. Veuillot, on the other hand, descended from their enemies in the privileged orders of the aristocracy and the higher echelons of the clerical hierarchy.

Imbued with this revolutionary back story, the fight between the caricaturists and Veuillot takes on a starkly black and white tone from the eye of the caricaturist. They saw the sabotage of Veuillot through ridicule as critically important, not just for their own protection from censorship and critics of their profession but for the protection of enlightenment progress and the Republic itself. Veuillot’s caricature, in which he is disfigured through pockmarks which suggest disease, is highly indicative of these fears. The pockmarks suggest the highly infectious smallpox, which in turn relates to fears of contamination, sickness and death. It is obvious that La Lune wanted Veuillot’s pockmarked nose to become a symbol for the journalist because they repeat just that part of the caricature in later issues, in defiance of the court ruling against them (see figure 2).

Nez de Louis Veuillot
Figure 2: André Gill, “This nose is wrong!” (La Lune, no. 64, 26th May 1867, dir. F. Polo). Subtitled: Ecce Homo: Here is the nose of the man. A little gilt-framed picture for the use of well-meaning people.

Thus Veuillot and the Catholics are made to appear disgusting in the analytical sense, posing a physical threat to society. The very active missionary efforts of the Society of Jesus was frequently represented metaphorically by a spreading plague16. Multiple conspiracy theories abounded, suspecting the Jesuits of planning world domination, overthrowing the Republic to reestablish absolutist power directed from afar by the Pope and generally converting French society to Jesuitism17. The caricature assumes its dual function of ridiculing the targets, so that their authority and potential to intimidate the public is lessened, and making the targets appear revolting so that the public is warned to keep away from them physically as well as intellectually.

The nineteenth century was particularly susceptible to theories suggesting that a person’s physical features could indicate their moral character or personality. Eighteenth and nineteenth century studies in physiology and comparative anatomy made fashionable explorations of social type and personality. It was believed that science had demonstrated how a person’s physical appearance were reflections of his or her intellectual and spiritual mind. Publications that broadcasted these theories were highly popular and similar discussions and explanations were frequently used by artists and writers interested in the themes of humanity and social variety (see Balzac’s La Comédie humaine)18. Readers of La Lune would be accustomed to looking for particular facial and bodily features that theorists of physiology and phrenology had listed as indicative of particular personality types. They would be easily convinced that the exaggeratedly ugly external features of the caricaturists’ targets reflected a malicious mind and intent.

The caricaturists and writers of La Lune believed they had a dual role: to entertain in the lighthearted spirit of the jester and to expose hypocrites and hidden enemies of the Republic. Their caricatures and satirical articles picked out antiliberal commentators and polemicists like Veuillot in an effort to undermine the authority of their arguments through ridicule and suggestion of ulterior, self-interested motives. Portrayal of ugliness was instrumental to convincing the readers that the caricaturist was unmasking an internal ugliness. This conviction could fuel or consolidate public suspicion that their Republic or their personal freedoms were vulnerable to attack. The caricaturists’ ridicule, so they believed, helped to empower the people through laughter to undermine the effectiveness of this attack. The caricatures prevented the authoritative statesmen and public commentators from appearing intimidating and inevitably powerful by making them laughable. It was a reminder to those in power that the sovereign power of the Republic was found in the people and not in the leaders. The polemical strategy of La Lune and other satirical journals is thus to gain popular support by making the readers believe that they are laughing at their worst social and political enemies. Consuming caricatures is thus a highly amusing form of risk-free (for the reader) revenge.

Footnotes:

1. McMillan, James, F., ‘Remaking Catholic Europe: Louis Veuillot and the Ultramontane Project’, Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, vol. 14, no. 1 (2001), pp. 112-122.

2.  This is particularly true of the more moderate Republicans who saw the new Republic of the 1870s and 1880s as being a finished product whose system would provide a trustworthy, well working government so long as it could be defended. For the more radical politicians on the Left, the Republic was only in its early stages and still needed considerable reform. See Cubitt, pp. 169-170.

3. For more information on the stakes of religion and political power in the run up and during the French Revolution, see Doyle, William, The Oxford History of the French Revolution, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002).

4. McMillan, James, F., ‘Remaking Catholic Europe: Louis Veuillot and the Ultramontane Project’, Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, vol. 14, no. 1 (2001), pp. 112-122. See p. 115.

5. Goldstein, Robert Justin, Censorship of Political Caricature in nineteenth-century France, (Kent, Kent State University Press, 1989), p. 16.

6. Veuillot, Louis, Mélanges , 3; 5; pp. 304-313. Veuillot’s Mélanges is a compendium of the various articles, letters and miscellany by the journalist from 1842 to 1913 compiled by his nephew Eugene Veuillot. Among the writings collected here are the various commentaries and editorials published in L’Univers. Veuillot, Louis, Mélanges religieux, historiques, politiques et littéraires, (1842-1913, Paris), sourced from http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/ cb31568258d.

7. All intext page references refer to Veuillot’s Mélanges.

8. See Cubitt, pp. 165; 173.

9. Favre denied that Paris had a “populace” though Veuillot challenges him to find another name for the caricaturist industry – worse than normal scum because full of self-importance and pretended republican virtue.

10. For more information on the progress of printmaking and lithography in France, see Farwell, Beatrice, The Charged Image: French Lithographic Caricature 1816 – 1848, (Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1989).

 11. l’Univers: 28th April 1867, no. 12.

12. Le Siècle, 13 May 1867, no. 11735; Le Figaro, no. 167 (2 May 1867).

13. La Gazette des Tribunaux, no. 12496, (11 May 1867).

14. This explanation was given in a later article by the caricaturists of La Lune. This article, highly satirical in tone, suggested several other interpretations for the wings and the halo, reminding the readers that geese also have wings and that the halo could also be a ring used in a clown’s circus act. The implication is that Veuillot was actually shown jumping through hoops in an attempt to appear dignified, evoking the bad faith of the arguments made in the prosecution. A repeat of this explanation was also given by Charles Fontane in his biography of André Gill and the caricature journals he worked in, Fontane, C., Un maître de la caricature: André Gill, (Paris, Éditions de l’Ibis, 1827), p. 201.

15. La Lune, no. 61, 4 May 1867, p. 2.

16. Cubitt, p. 186.

17. Cubitt, p. 146.

18. For more on the influence of physiognomy and phrenology in nineteenth century popular culture, see Wechsler, Judith, A human comedy : physiognomy and caricature in 19th century Paris, (Chicago and London, Chicago University Press, 1982).

Bibliography:

  • Cholvy, Gérard and Hilaire, Yves-Marie, Histoire Religieuse de la France Contemporaine, 1800-1880, (Toulouse, Éditions Privat, 1985).
  • Cubitt, Geoffrey, The Jesuit Myth: Conspiracy Theory and Politics in Nineteenth Century France, (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1993).
  • Devlin, Judith, The Superstitious mind: French peasants and the Supernatural in the Nineteenth Century, (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1987).
  • Fontane, Charles, Un maître de la caricature: André Gill, (Paris, Éditions de l’Ibis, 1827).
  • Ford, Caroline, Divided Houses: Religion and Gender in Modern France, (Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 2005).
  • McManners, John, Church and State in France, 1870-1914, (London, SPCK, 1972).
  • McMillan, James, F., ‘Remaking Catholic Europe: Louis Veuillot and the Ultramontane Project’, Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, vol. 14, no. 1 (2001), pp. 112-122.
  • Veuillot, Louis, Mélanges religieux, historiques, politiques et littéraires, (1842-1913, Paris), sourced from http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/ cb31568258d. Accessed 8 May 2016.    
  • Zeldin, Theodore, Conflicts in French Society: anticlericalism, education and morals in the nineteenth century, (London, George Allen and Unwin LTD, 1970).


Cite this blog post
Stephanie Williams (2016, May 16). Caricaturists versus Ultramontanism and its supporters: La Lune versus Veuillot. Only Joking. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/siz5

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