An Evening at the House of Satire Coffeehouse

by Tiffany Kim for Professors Boots and Deese—Interdisciplinary Paper

One drop, two drops, three drops, four.

The cobblestone pavements of London soon gleam under the dim streetlights. A street beggar, with a bottle of gin in one hand and a loaf of stale bread in the other, hastens his steps to escape the unsought shower. Rows of coffee shops and salons with fancy names decorate the street, but he cannot read what they say. Unsure of where to go, he chooses the coffeehouse with the largest awning as his lodge for the night and makes his way there. The beggar peers into a slightly cracked window of the House of Satire at two seemingly wealthy gentlemen sipping their coffees and in deep discussion. Plopping down on the ground, the curious beggar opens his ears and soon, becomes entranced by the conversation between the intellectuals.

Voltaire: Well, I never believed those rulers actually had Divine Right. From a logical, scientific perspective, the idea that “God” had specially picked Louis XIV, that feminine bastard, and given him extraordinary qualities to rule the kingdom is absurd. I’m telling you, I bet those religious extremists came up with that concept.Hogarth: Shall we “thank God” he’s dead then?

Voltaire: As you and I are both deists, I think we can agree that God is not the one to thank for the king’s death. And no, I am not ecstatic he is dead, because his son is a far worse ruler. Louis XV is destroying my country. He only adheres to the needs of the aristocrats, heavily taxes the poor, and deprives us of natural freedoms. I mean, I almost got sent to prison because of that man!

Hogarth: That was when you first came here in exile, and met me. I remember. We sat at that corner table over there and devised our plans to defy the general European social order. At the time, I personally was discontent with my country’s system as well.

Voltaire: What? But you are so lucky to have grown up here, under the English constitutional monarchy. You live in a country that promotes liberty instead of tyranny.

The curled up beggar flinches at that statement. He flashes back to the time the government took his farm and land during the enclosure acts.

Hogarth: England is a great place, indeed. However, that doesn’t mean there is complete social equality here.

The beggar nods in agreement.

Hogarth: (continued) The royals and wealthy upper class still hold the majority of the wealth in our nation. They buy and sell titles like they are objects and the monarchy allows such practices to take place. Take for instance the act of arranged marriage. This is a practice I find to be morally wrong.

Voltaire: You painted a series on arranged marriage within the upper class, didn’t you?

Hogarth: Yes, Marriage A-La-Mode, and I created it to show that practices like marriage should not be arranged in terms of self-interest or prospective gains. Here, take a look at my printed copy. This is one of my favorites in the series: The Marriage Contract.

The beggar tries to catch a glimpse of the printed painting through the small window crack. In the picture, he sees two upper class families are negotiating terms for their children’s’ marriage. The man in the glasses – an aristocrat he assumes – points at his family tree and his aristocratic pedigree, while the wealthy merchant figure carefully reviews the marriage settlement document.

Voltaire: Are these people thinking logically when they agree to such a poorly thought-out agreement? I disdain the idea of hereditary nobility and the upper class’s haughty nature. The noble father in this painting must believe his family’s blood is so profound and special. Oh, and the merchant father must think his money can buy him anything – even a name that wasn’t bestowed upon by birth. I must say that you’ve perfectly captured the essence of the upper class mentality. Hmm, the poor children are looking away from each other. I also see you’ve symbolized their forced relationship with the image of two chained dogs in the corner. Great touch. I love it. And I shall add, this painting is amusing as hell.

Hogarth: That is the beauty of visual satire. It is amusing at first, but the details of the stage gives way to a deeper understanding. It shows otherwise harsh ideas in a lighthearted fashion. I am glad my painting does its job at conveying the idea that practices like the upper class’s arranged marriages are actually terrible.

Voltaire: May I see another?

Hogarth: Let me show you this one. I call this The Death of the Lady, and it is the last one in my series.

The beggar props his head near the window again to see the next painting. In this one, a lady on a chair is dying as a man tries to take her ring off her finger. Meanwhile, a baby girl is crying in the arms of a maid.

Voltaire: Ha! The baby is a girl! There goes the family’s noble lineage. All the arranged marriage, sexual affairs, and deaths for nothing! Hilarious! And there is that dog again. He is taking the turkey like the man is taking the woman’s ring. This scene perfectly depicts the greed of the upper class. Look at the Lord taking her ring while she is in the act of dying. What a great way to portray these sorts of immoral elites through visual satire.

Hogarth: The aristocrats and upper class are so obsessed with titles and money. Not only did I want to show that arranged marriage is unethical, but I also wanted to convey the moral lesson that all greedy plans fall apart in the end. I actually was inspired to kill the characters off after reading some of Shakespeare’s tragedies.

Voltaire: Shakespeare, you say? He is one of my most favorite writers. I got the idea to kill off the aristocratic character in my own book from his stories as well.

Hogarth: Are you talking about the Baron? In Candide?

Voltaire: I see you’ve read my work.

Hogarth: Of course. Your book is the talk of all the towns, my friend! Look here everyone! My friend is the most famous satirical writer in France!

A group of artisans at a nearby table look to the two intellectuals and exchange glances. On the other side of the shop, two scholars stop their conversation to glance over at Voltaire.

Voltaire: Really Hogarth? Was that necessary? Everyone is staring now.

Hogarth: *Chuckles* Where’s your humor Francois? Anyway, returning to your book: I read it twice, actually. The adventurous storyline drenched in satire and life lessons on morals was brilliantly written. Including satire on such a critical depiction of the aristocracy was a great touch. It lessened any rancor that would have otherwise been felt as too harsh by the readers. Instead, the carefully packaged messages felt like fun, light humor! I especially enjoyed the scene when the baron’s sister refused to marry Candide’s father because he only had seventy-one quarterings in his family tree! I found that particular satirical representation of aristocratic pretension very entertaining. The manner in which aristocrats care so much about noble lineages is indeed a problem that needed to be addressed. I am extremely impressed with how you managed to critique the negative aspects of aristocratic pride in your story so swiftly.

Voltaire: Swift! Another one of my favorite writers! He is brilliant I tell you.

Hogarth: I said “swiftly,” not “swift.” But now I think of it, Candide’s adventures do mirror the type of adventures in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, don’t they?

Voltaire: Well, you could say that. His books served as my inspiration for this story. He would definitely approve of the satirical representations of the aristocracy in our works. Anyway – getting back on topic – did you find any other scenes particularly memorable?

Hogarth: I remember the scene when Candide was determined to save Cunegonde from Don Fernando. When Candide mentioned marriage, the baron became extremely angry because Candide was not a noble. Though he saved Cunegonde’s life twice already, Candide still wasn’t “good” enough to marry Cunegonde. The baron’s strong reaction definitely shows the extreme value aristocrats place on the idea of noble blood. I mean, Candide saved Cunegonde’s life! Shouldn’t that mean anything to the Baron? Aristocrats can be so illogical sometimes.

Voltaire: I am glad you understood the idea I was trying to convey within that scene.

Hogarth: Yes, but many people in my town didn’t understand it as clearly as I did. Maybe everyone would understand better if you accompanied your writing with visual displays. The use of visual satire can be more powerful than literary satire because it can reach a wider audience. Through images, people who are illiterate, foreigners, or just don’t have the will or time to read a book cover to cover would be able to understand your messages.

The beggar nods in approval. He never learned to read, and is interested in knowing more about this humorous, adventurous book, Candide.

Voltaire: I must disagree. I write in order for people to feel what the characters feel and understand the thoughts, fears, hope, and lessons within my book. Thus, it is only necessary to make it completely imageless. It allows readers to use their imaginations, relate to the characters, and ultimately allows them to put together the story in their minds the way they desire. By reading Candide, readers can feel what he feels and relate to his thoughts and views of the aristocracy.

Hogarth: But the benefits of visual images like paintings are endless! They are more accessible, colorful, and take less time to see and understand. People these days are so busy with their hustle and bustle attitudes, who has time to sit down and read for hours? I, for one, would much rather see a detailed painting that lets the story unfold like a stage – interpretable in a matter of minutes versus the hours a book requires. For example, it took me only a few minutes to show you some of my Marriage A-la-Mode paintings. The coffeehouse would have closed by the time we finished Candide!

Voltaire: Listen, despite the amount of time it takes to read, literary satire is more powerful because it portrays irony through text. The text allows readers to engage on a more intimate level. Thus, it is more humorous to read a detailed satire storyline than to look at a satirical painting. Also, my work would not make sense to illiterate people with no education, even if I had included pictures.

The beggar feels a tinge of shame and huddles his knees together. The night wind is getting colder and the beggar is feeling more and more ashamed of his status in society. Compared to these two successful intellectuals in the coffeehouse, he feels stupid, ignorant, poor, and as low as dirt.

Hogarth: But with visual satire, people can see the displays and immediately engage in discussions with one another. This allows the whole general public, educated or not, to exposed to powerful examples which can change societal views.

The beggar looks up at Hogarth. He remembers the funny printed pictures and smiles a little.

Voltaire: You have a point there, Hogarth. However, I believe wit-woven literary satire engages readers with the story more and provides open-endedness to interpretation. This room to think can help instill stronger desires for change.

The beggar now desperately wishes more than anything that he could read. He tries to memorize this coffeehouse, so that he can come back soon and listen to more conversations in the future. He is hungry to learn more about what goes on in the minds of such intellectuals and understand current societal issues. He wants to make changes in society like these fine men do, but he is only a lowly beggar with no say in anything.

Hogarth: Well, despite our contrasting viewpoints on the pros and cons of visual and literary satire, I think it’s safe to say that we both agree that satire in itself is a powerful tool for change. Despite that you use it with words in Candide and that I use it with images in Marriage A-la-Mode, we have both made a profound impact on society. It can be said that we have both successfully managed to get our points across: that the aristocracy and upper class think and act in greedy, pretentious, immoral, and illogical ways.

Voltaire: Hogarth, I dare not disagree with you this time. Satire is indeed a powerful tool. Who knew humor could help people to interpret, understand, and act on issues in the social order? Looking at our works’ popularity, I am confident to say that we have successfully integrated our satirical brilliance, reasoning, objectivity, and logic with art and literature to publicly defy the nefarious social order in Europe.

Hogarth: Yes, the aristocrats are not as reputable as society assumes and the society of our current innovative and rational age definitely needs to know that. I am happy that we can agree and say that people should learn from our satirical works to see that illogical, pretentious thinking and actions are immoral and can lead to dire consequences.

Voltaire: I agree. The basis of human nature is to assure freedom and equality, two elements both of our nations still do not have. John Locke would have approved of our attempts toward this sort of societal change. Hogarth, our brilliance and talent can do away with the aristocracy and all sorts of ideas of class and social hierarchy! No one’s blood is better than another’s. Am I right?

Hogarth: Just one more thing Francois. I have been waiting for a good time to mention this, but your name seems to counteract your statement. You in fact hold the very title of an aristocrat, “de Voltaire.” I do not understand your deep contempt for the aristocracy when you yourself are within their circle.

The beggar holds his breath. There is a sudden tension between the two intellectuals and no one utters a word for a couple seconds.

Voltaire: My dear friend! You must have thought I was mad this whole time! I was ranting on and on about how I loathed the aristocracy when you had in your mind that I was one of them! Like Candide, My name is but another gesture of defiance against their hoity-toity “Sirs” and “Lords.” I mean, Hogarth, why, look at your own paintings and you shall see exactly why I loathe the aristocracy, with their title-seeking motives and underlying deception. It shames me to think that you would believe I had shifted into one of them! You know me. I act out against the aristocracy and their rules, even to the point where it gets me exiled. That is just me.

Hogarth: What a relief. I should have known. You and your witty humor will certainly get you in many ditches my friend. But as many ditches you fall into, you will rise higher than the rest because your witty rebellions will resonate with society and will be remembered. You and your works like Candide will go down in history, I just know it.

Voltaire: Hogarth, you are such a supportive friend. But you, too, will be remembered! That artistic talent will not go to waste, I assure you. I predict many places will hold your works in the future and present them with pride.

Hogarth: We will both go down in history, Francois. We have successfully informed society about the dangers of self-interest and greed, and exposed the pretentious aristocracy and their irrational values through our satirical works. We are helping to progress society toward a new and better future. We have cultivated our gardens like Candide did in your book! Hopefully, there will soon be a day that comes when the French and English rise against the monarchies and create all-democratic, liberal states with no aristocracy, just as Locke desired.

Voltaire: Yes, because every man is born equal and deserves to be treated so.

The beggar looks at himself at the reflection in the coffeehouse window. This time, he doesn’t see a lowly beggar, but instead sees a man of equal status to the men in the coffeehouse. The upper class is not better than him because, all men are born equal. He now sees society’s social order in a different light. The beggar gets up, drops his gin on the gleaming, wet pavement, and stuffs his bread into his pocket. He looks up at the coffeehouse sign one last time to instill the image in his memory.

He slowly starts down the cobblestone path again.

One step, two steps, three steps, four.

He is going to cultivate his life, little by little, one step at a time, until the day he is able to return to the House of Satire coffeehouse as a changed man.

Works Cited

Boots, Professor. “18th Century Visual Art.” HU102 Team Discussion. Boston University CGS, Boston, Massachusetts. Discussion.

Deese, Professor. “18th Century Enlightenment.” SS102 Team Lecture. Boston University CGS, Boston, Massachusetts. Lecture.

Fiero, Gloria K. “Enlightenment: Science and the New Learning.” Landmarks in Humanities. Boston, Mass.: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2009. Print.

Martin, Kathleen. “From Second Treatise of Civil Government by John Locke.” Readings in Social Theory and Modernization. Spring 2015 ed. Boston: Pearson, 2015. Print.

McGrath, John T. The Modernization of the Western World: A Society Transformed. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2013. Print.

The Rum Grumblers of Great Britain. Engraving. London: 1763. Web. 10 May 2015.

“The Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment.” JSA Lecture. Boston University CGS. JSA Auditorium, Boston, Massachusetts. Lecture.

Voltaire. Candide. Trans. Daniel Gordon. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. Print.

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