At the British Museum today I went to see ‘Bonaparte and the British’, I urge you all to go (also it is free so there really is no excuse). I came across this rather marvelous print from the British Museum’s own collection, by James Gillray:
In this caricature Napoleon is depicted in the guise of an extravagantly dressed ginger bread seller, as it turns out this was actually based on a real person. Tiddy Doll (I’m guessing this was not his real name) famously marched the streets of eighteenth century London selling his delicious gingerbread. But his preferred attire was much more akin to the despotic Emperor depicted in the above image. He famously wore a hat with an enormous ostrich feather (making him instantly recognisable and easy to spot through a crowd), a laced ruffled shirt, a white gold suit and white stockings, with a white apron to top it off. He must have showed up even the flashiest dandy walking the streets of the London in that get up. Tiddy was such a well known character to real Londoners that he was included in the print ‘Southwark Fair’ by none other than William Hogarth.
Tiddy Doll so got his name for the various ballads and popular songs which he would sing as he sold his gingerbread; to which he often included his own lyrics. For example:
‘Mary, Mary, where do you live now Mary?
I live, when at home, in the second house in Little Ball Street,
Two steps underground, a wiscum, a riscom, and a why-not.
Walk in ladies and gentlemen, my shop is on the second floor backwards
With a knocker on the door
Here is your nice gingerbread, your spice gingerbread
It will melt in your mouth like a red-hot brick-bat
And rumble in your insides like Punch and his wheelbarrow’
These verses invariably ended with the refrain ‘Tiddy Diddy Doll, lol, lol, lol’, hence the name (still think ‘lol’ is a modern saying?!) Such was his fame that his name was coined in the saying ‘You look quite the Tiddy Doll’, meaning to dress tawdrily or above your station.
In Gillray’s print Napoleon as Tiddy Doll is drawing out of the oven several fat Kings of Europe that he has just produced. More puppet Kings and Queen’s wearing crowns peer out of a basket in the bottom left. A cornucopia beside it is inscribed ‘Hot Spiced Gingerbread! all hot- come who dips in my lukey [sic] bag!’. From the cornucopia pours crowns, coronets, orders and a cardinal’s hat. Such a cutting depiction of Napoleon as the mad and bad King-Maker, controlling Europe through his puppets, who he then discards when he has no further use for them, would have had enormous appeal to London’s working men and women. This was the kind of image which they could read, and relish. I am sure that Tiddy would have enjoyed the recognition and further fame that being named in a Gillray print would have bought to his gingerbread business!