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Darwin Correspondence Project

4.21 Gegeef, 'Our National Church', 1

A print with the ironic title Our National Church: The Aegis of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity was issued by the London publisher Edmund Appleyard in c.1872-3, and sold at a penny. The artist who drew it signed himself ‘gegeëf’(at bottom left), a pseudonym probably based phonetically on his initials (GGF). Warren Dawson identified him as Gordon E. Flaws, without citing evidence. All we know from a linked source, the Gauntlet, is that he ‘had no artistic training’. He seems to have worked extensively for Appleyard at this time, producing many cheap popular prints that gave vent to working-class resentment of social and political oppression, and also attacked religious bigotry. Examples can be found in the John Johnson collection of political and satirical prints in the Bodleian Library, and in the Huxley archive at Imperial College London. The latter collection includes a little-known print, Our National Religion, signed and dated ‘Gegeëf 30-Apl.-73’; he also signed the printed commentary below the image. A printed advertisement at the bottom of the sheet reveals that both this print and Our National Church belonged to a planned series of six ‘National Cartoons by Gegeëf’, published by Appleyard, which were to be made available ‘in book form, folded, with cover-price sixpence, other national subjects to follow’. By  April 1873, Our National Church had, according to the listing in the advertisement, reached its fifteenth edition, suggesting that it may have been first issued in 1872.   

The style of this multi-figure composition, with its complex symbols, allusions and texts, belongs to an old tradition. It echoes the imagery of the didactic prints that decorated the walls of cottages and public houses – their designs often picturing good and bad paths through life, leading to salvation or perdition in the distance. It is surprising to find this emblematic idiom lingering on in a humorous print of the 1870s; yet the references to contemporary theological disputes, and to the clash between Darwinism and clerical opinion, show that it is topical and well informed. It evidently interested both the Darwin and Huxley tribes enough to be acquired and preserved in their archives. Indeed, so popular did it prove that the design was reworked and reissued in 1883, in a coloured lithographic version that was the subject of much comment. This second version was signed by ‘Ion’, a nom de plume of the secularist campaigner George Jacob Holyoake, indicating that Holyoake may also have had a hand in designing or sponsoring the first version. He explained in the caption to the 1883 print, ‘Ten years ago a crude sketch with this title was published, which, despite its deplorably inartistic quality, met with an unlooked for success’ – hence his decision to have it improved and updated.  

According to the long text at the bottom of the print, ‘The central idea is to show the present anomalous state of the Church of England’, symbolised by the ‘umbrella’ of St Paul’s cathedral dome, with ‘the various leading Schools of Religious Thought’, from Anglo-Catholicism to the ‘Low Church’, pulling the umbrella in opposite directions. Beyond these groups, on the left of the print, are nonconformists and heterodox thinkers of different persuasions, including those who, like Bishop Colenso, now questioned the literal truth of the Scriptures. Above them in the left distance are ‘Professors Huxley and Tyndall, marching onwards under the flag of Scientific Investigation’. ‘They look towards the dawning of an intellectual era, whose brightness will dispel the gloom, and give warmth to the chilling influence behind them.’ Seated on the ground just below the rising sun is a long-tailed monkey with the head of Darwin, as in Fun cartoons of this date. ‘Dr. Darwin beckons to the Professors and points the way’, saying, ‘This way to daylight my sons.’ Scientific enlightenment through Darwin’s ideas is thus humorously set in contrast to the Roman Catholic obscurantism evoked on the right-hand side of the composition.  ‘The Picture has two sides, that towards the Sun is bright, and that towards Rome is dark.’ 

  • physical location Darwin archive, Cambridge University Library. Another copy survives in the Thomas Henry Huxley archive at Imperial College, London. 

  • accession or collection number DAR 141.10 

  • copyright holder Syndics of Cambridge University Library 

  • originator(s) of image ‘Gegeëf’ and probably George Jacob Holyoake 

  • date of creation c. 1872-3 

  • computer-readable date c. 1872-01-01 to 1873-12-31 

  • medium and material lithograph with the effect of a line drawing; typographic text 

  • references and bibliography Warren R. Dawson, The Huxley Papers: A Descriptive Catalogue of the Correspondence, Manuscripts and Miscellaneous Papers of the Rt. Hon. Thomas Henry Huxley . . . preserved in the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London (London; Macmillan for the Imperial College, 1946), p. 199, Section XIV, ‘Caricatures and Cartoons’, nos. 79. (20) and 79. (21). Warren Sylvester Smith, The London Heretics, 1870-1914 (London: Constable, 1967), p. xiii. Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place. Volume II of a Biography (London: Jonathan Cape, 2002), pp. 380-1. Browne, ‘Darwin in caricature: a study in the popularization and dissemination of evolutionary theory’, in Barbara Larson and Fae Brauer (eds), The Art of Evolution: Darwin, Darwinisms, and Visual Culture (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press and University Press of New England, 2009, pp. 18-39 (pp.33-4). J. van Wyhe, ‘Iconography’, p. 186. 


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