Laroon’s “Squire of Alsatia”

The Squire of Alsatia, by Marcellus Laroon

The Squire of Alsatia, by Marcellus Laroon

Marcellus Laroon was born in 1649 in the Hague, and brought to Britain by his father, an artist, around 1660. After serving an apprenticeship as a painter and working in Yorkshire, he settled in London around the mid 1670s, setting up at 4 Bow Street, Covent Garden. The market there provided him with the subject matter for his series The Cryes of the City of London, drawne after the Life, a set of 74 portraits of London characters first published in 1687. One of them is The Squire of Alsatia, the reproduction above taken from a reprint of 1813. (The credit beneath it reads: Pub.d Aug.t 10. 1813 by R.S. Kirby 11 London House Yard.)

A dandy, dressed a la mode, with a large befeathered hat, lace neckerchief, cane and sword, strikes a pose. The flamboyance implies aristocratic status, but is a facade. James Granger, in his Biographical Dictionary of England, identifies the real-life subject as Bully Dawson, “a notorious gambler and black-leg [card-sharp] of his time” and goes on:

…. one of the gamesters of White Friars, which was notorious for these pests of society, who were generally dressed to the extremity of the mode. Their phraseology abounded with such words as are sometimes introduced by pretenders to politeness and “dunces of figure,” whom Swift reckons among the principal corrupters of our language. The reader may see much of this jargon, which indeed requires a glossary to understand it, in Shadwell’s comedy, entitled “The ‘Squire of Alsatia,” which was brought upon the stage in this reign.

The scan above is taken from a print in my possession, and is in the public domain. Click on the picture for the full size version, which may be freely shared.

Update 6/9/2009: Image uploaded to Wikimedia Commons.

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