Saturday, 7 February 2015

Frogs and baboons - the view from England

To Friendship, Constancy and Virtue Foes
 In English, Fops and Knaves; in French, they're Beaus
 In short, they are an ill contriv'd Lampoon
 And to conclude, A French-Man's a BABOON

The Baboon A-la Mode, a satyr against the French, London, 1704, p. 22

When mighty Roast Beef was the Englishman's food,
It ennobled our brains and enriched our blood.
Our soldiers were brave and our courtiers were good
Oh! the Roast Beef of old England,
And old English Roast Beef!

But since we have learnt from all-vapouring France
To eat their ragouts as well as to dance,
We're fed up with nothing but vain complaisance
Oh! the Roast Beef of Old England,
And old English Roast Beef!

Henry Fielding, The Roast Beef of Old England  1731

Black-bread, and Soup-meagre, and Frogs fricaſſee'd,
Are Fare, that may ſerve for a Frenchman indeed ;
But they never ſhall ſhake our well-founded Belief,
That no Fare in the World's like OLD ENGLAND'S Roaſt Beef

A Word to the Wise, or Old England forever; a new song for Christmas 1792 

After all that plague, back to some trivia.........

It is interesting to learn that, despite the tempting alliteration, the French did not become “frogs” in English satire until the very end of the 18th century.  In John Arbuthnot’s famous History of John Bull (1712) it is the Dutch  who are personified as  “Nic Frog” whereas the French, represented by their Bourbon King,  are “Lewis the Baboon”.  The Baboon stereotype was well-established early in the century; foppish, arrogant and affected, the Frenchman  "aped" good manners. The barb was directed as much again slavish English admirers of French culture as against the French themselves.

Then, as now, food played a defining  role in national stereotypes - and the French were already well-know as frog eaters.  In the 1730s and 1740s frogs, and sometimes snails, came to exemplify a effete and overrefined - to say nothing of plain horrible -  French cuisine, as against the manly and reliable "roast beef of Old England". Frog-eating  also indicated poverty.  The pretentious aristocracy and the starving peasantry had thinness in common; the only fat people in France were the fearsome fishwives of the north coast, who were employed to carry visitors ashore, or greedy and lustful monks. 

The defining image, of course, was Hogarth's famous "Gates of Calais" painted in the wake of his trip of 1748.  In this slightly later engraving, one of two "invasion prints" produced by Hogarth at the outbreak of the Seven Years War, a monk and a soldier prepare to invade England with torture equipment whilst cooking up a last meal of frogs.  The dry bones of a small joint of beef in the inn window suggests the French are eager to invade in order to sample the "roast beef of Old England".

According to David Bindman, the idea that the French were themselves frogs appears only in later Revolutionary era satires, usually based on Aesop's fable of "the Frogs who wanted a King".  

Among the French themselves the nickname "Grenouille" was applied to Parisians of the Marais.


David Bindman, "How the French became frogs: English caricature and a national stereotype." Originally published in Apollo magazine in 2003. 

Fitzwilliam Museum Vive la différence! The English and French stereotype in satirical prints 1720-1815 (Exhibition Tue 20 March 2007 to Sun 5 August 2007)

 John Richard Moores, Representations of France and the French in English Satirical Prints, c. 1740-1832  PhD thesis, University of York (2011)

Here is a nice write-up of "The history of John Bull":

The splendidly xenophobic Hogarth's experiences in France would have made a good post. But Andrew Graham-Dixon has beaten me to it!  Here is his article onThe Gates of Calais (originally published in the Sunday Telegraph in 2000) :

Calais Gate, or O! The Roast Beef of Old England, by William Hogarth
"Archived French frog stories" from AllAboutFrogs

"Origins of "frog" as term for French person?" Discussion on FreeRepublic

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