La Belle Assemblée, March 1807
“The Miseries of Human Life, [originally] written in 1806 by James Beresford (1764–1840) of Oxford University, was extraordinarily successful, becoming a minor classic in the satirical literature of the day. In a humorous dialogue between two old curmudgeons, the book details the “petty outrages, minor humiliations, and tiny discomforts that make up everyday human existence.” The public loved it: dozens of editions were published, and printmakers rushed to illustrate their own versions of life’s miseries.
Thomas Rowlandson (1756/57–1827) began drawing scenes based on Beresford’s book as soon as it was published, and after two years the luxury print dealer Rudolph Ackermann selected fifty of his hand-colored etchings for a new edition of Miseries. Many of the now-iconic characters and situations that the artist drew for this project – some based closely on Beresford’s text and others of his own invention–reappeared in later works, with variations on the Miseries turning up until the artist’s death.