No Joke but an Irish Bull. By “Canis” a Bulldog. Being a long String of true tales of the Bull with illustrations numerous if not humerous. Showing the ends of all the tails in the beginning.



4to., contemporary unsigned but professional binding of full blue morocco, front cover and spine decorated with an elaborate all-over design with a field of gilt lozenges around a four lobed central device (a stylized shamrock?) roll-tooled board edges, endpapers of an unusual printed blue and gold paper. 140 pp, a mixture of heavy paper and light card, many drawings mounted, incorporating 50 full page illustrations and many elaborate borders, often incorporating sizeable illustrations. All pages numbered in ink, first and last leaves eccentrically mounted on verso of front free end-paper, tissue guards between each page. Binding slightly cracked at rear, some foxing, but effectively in fine condition. “London. Published by the Family Circulating Library Co (very limited) printed at the Home Office. All rights of perusal reserved.” No date, but c. 

A remarkable illuminated manuscript, written and illustrated by a middle-aged English businessman in pursuit of the hand of a prosperous Dublin divorcée. It begins gently and gradually gets more serious, becoming in part an allegorical reflection on the state of Ireland, using the device of a bull to symbolise England, chasing the couple through a mythical Irish landscape based loosely on the abandoned, haunted estate of Loftus Hall in Wexford.   


And for ages John Bull has been hunting down Erin
And thinks it obeying a natural law
To drive her dear children away from her shore
Till they leave their hill slopes, like the poor hunted hind  


The author was Henry Hilditch Bulkeley-Johnson, born in London in 1825 to an initially very prosperous commercial family dealing in tea and spices. The family (or at least the father and elder brother) fell into bankruptcy with debts of £7,000 in 1850, possibly caused by involvement in the Railway Mania. They appear to have recovered quite well and in the 1861 census Henry was described as a hop-merchant, living in a respectable Hampstead address with his first wife Sarah. He and his siblings had by then changed the family name from the plain Johnson to Bulkeley-Johnson, either out of pure snobbishness or in an attempt to separate themselves from the stigma of commercial failure, and the allegory of the bull in the manuscript springs largely from the prominence of the bull in the Bulkeley family’s arms. We have found no record of a blood relationship with the extensive and aristocratic Bulkeley family, but assume there is one - it would be more than unusually socially ambitious to completely invent such a connection. We can’t find any record of Sarah’s death or their divorce, but one or the other seems likely, since Henry was able to marry Emma in Dublin in 1871: they lived the rest of their lives in London.  


The recipient, although identified in the text as Zöe, appears to be Emma Fielding Leet, the daughter of Charles Henry Leet, M.D., of Dublin, and of Jane Georgiana Ussher of the ancient Norman/Irish clerical family. The illustrations of Emma in this manuscript show a determined woman, maybe by necessity, for her life up to this point was not straightforward. Her first husband, a brewer called William Bowden Wetherman, left her for one Keziah Mealing, with whom he moved to Sydney. Emma successfully divorced him in 1869 for adultery with Keziah, whom he then married in Australia, but things went badly for the emigrants with William’s early death in 1872 in Woolloomooloo, and Keziah’s subsequent return to England, where she died in Tonbridge Union Workhouse in 1912. 


The text, after extensive prefatory material including a dedicatory inscription, prologue, elaborate illustrated title page, dedication and introduction, is a poetic narrative, initially in individual Cantos (1-43), and then in one long continuous body. The verse is in a rather rigid iambic pentameter, with an AA BB rhyming scheme, which is less grating on the mind’s ear when sung to the tune of “Johnny’s so long at the Fair”. It is written on rectos only, within elaborate and various pictorial borders, and the full page plates on the versos usually illustrate the text opposite, but are sometimes slightly out of synchronisation, and sometimes have no apparent textual reference. 


Bulkeley-Johnson, though clearly amateur, shows considerable ability as a graphic artist, if not as a draughtsman. The borders are varied, vigorous and accomplished, and the larger pictures often have a really considerable physical presence.


The wit may be somewhat leaden, leaning heavily on running puns around the word Bull, and is eminently Victorian in that sense (putting one in mind of the world of Diary of a Nobody), but this is more than made up for by fascinating, albeit sometimes obscure, insights into the views of upper middle class Anglo-Irish society. This is not a familiar Big House culture, but a bourgeois suburban commercial one. Both the Republicans and the British come in for criticism.


Opportunity for punning trumps narrative consistency, and the narrator is sometimes presented in the person of a bulldog, sometimes as a bull or variants of a bull, and sometimes as a version of himself, a fine upstanding man with long moustaches. The story begins with him visiting “Eversden” where lives with her siblings. This house was indeed the home of the Leet family and still stands, a fine suburban pile, at 132 Sandford Road, Rathmines, Dublin, and is named after the ancestral home of the Leet family in Cambridgeshire.


Observing Zöe to be down in the dumps, he persuades her to go for a walk, and they elect to go for a stroll in “Lord Ely’s domain”, for “The lawyer’s have seized it, the Lord is ejected”. This appears to be a reference to the Marquess of Ely (an Irish title – the Ely is in Wicklow, not Cambridgeshire) who bankrupted himself with the over-ambitious rebuilding of Loftus Hall in Wexford. Loftus Hall is a good hundred miles from Rathmines and was presumably chosen as a homonym of the East Anglian Ely (not far from Eversden) and because of its reputation as a haunted house. They enter the estate through a lodge manned by a crone, who later in the narrative identifies herself as the spirit of Erin, the “last real O’Kelly” and her daughter: “The Gates of old Erin they say open wide / And welcome John Bull, when he ventures inside.”


The couple are chased through the grounds by the bull, the various episodes offering opportunities for the author to show off his knowledge of natural history, with a particularly fine page of drawings of microscopic pond life, as well as vigorous dinosaurs, snakes, a fabulous border featuring an octopus, fish, snails, slugs, spiders, dogs, birds, butterflies and a death’s head moth with  

“on his thorax, the skull and crossbone
An emblem the Fenian claims as his own
And it seemed the scared spirit of such agitator
For it lives as he lives on the murphy, the prater.
A creature of darkness which dreads the daylight
Like a death laden letter which travels at night”;  

classical history, with illustrations of Zöe both as Europa with her bull and as Diana following the hunt with her yoked bulls as well as a couple of fine Assyrian Bulls, one of which is clearly a self-portrait of him being attended to by Zöe, captioned “The Power of Gentleness”;

architecture, with good illustrations of the roughly neo-classical Loftus Hall, a grand gothic building showing what they expected the haunted house to look like (“The Hall as represented by Conversation and Anticipation to the Imagination A CASE OF MENTAL DELUSION), an orientalist gatehouse, a fine hexagonal lodge, a “Cottage ornée” and a ruined abbey;

the supernatural with bogles, brownies, banshees, ghosts, imps, elves, “fays, phantoms and fairies”, and a really fine representation of a demonic Mari Lwyd titled “Excommunication or the Bull of the Pope”. His taste for the fantastic is fully explored in his illustrations of the Sea Serpent that came ashore in Ballybunian [sic];

contemporary politics with representations of Wellington (there were Wellesley family connections in Emma’s family and her brother Ambrose carried Wellesley as a middle name), Disraeli and Gladstone who in one large drawing is leading the British bull by the nose “a minister holding John Bull by the nose when Erin is threatened with death and perdition for daring to seek for her rights by petition” Anglo-Irish relations gradually come to the fore, both in the text and the illustrations, which build to a climax with four tremendous full page illustrations of a judge “sowing ye winds of injustice” in an eviction scene, “reaping the whirlwind of revolution” with a street fighting scene, “The harvest home of ruin” with an abandoned church, and “Seeking a better life” an emigration scene.


The text vigorously pleads an anti British cause:

Not kilt by mistake, on the ribbonman’s rule
But just for a joke, by an Irish Bull.
Then a cry would rise up on my side of the water
“What a desperate country for murder and slaughter”
For Erin’s sheer accidents, are not excused
Explanations are nothing, she must be abused

Some English folk judge, from a love to condemn,
They think no one else on a level with them
Ape superiority, knowledge extensive,
Or think they can cure you, by being Expensive.
You know them at once, for their style is notorious
The first word which comes from their lips is censorious
Excite but a prejudice, rouse but a passion.
Of course in a moment they follow the fashion -
No scheme can succeed, which defies their opinion:
No rule can be right, which declines their dominion,
Assuming ascendancy, jealous of all,
Ungenerous often, they join a cabal ‘gainst Erin's north States or the Suez Canal
Yet the states of the north have asserted their might
And Lesseps’ Canal Sea to Sea does unite.
And Erin extracts inch by inch her full right

Brave sensitive Erin! Thy poets in song
Have chronicled sweetly and sadly the wrong
Imposed on thy weakness, by right of the strong:
It shackles thy freedom, and shadows thy life
And makes thee the cradle of national strife.
We have heard, we have seen, and with sorrow confess,
How thy woes and thy sins, thy despair and distress,
May be traced to one source: legislation of our’s!
Britannia’s ill use of her infinite powers!
She chases oppression from shore on to shore,
But closes her eye to the tyrannous sore,
Which rules in its might, as it broods at her door,
O! Herald the man! Who shall settle the day,
When Britain’s reproach shall be all swept away;
When usury masked, is forbidden the spoil,
When the Lord has no more than his share of the soil,
And the husbandman reaps the reward of his toil.
When the faith of a people is held in respect,
When pride on a nation’s upheaval is wrecked,
When keen susceptibilities cease to be slighted:
When wrongs of the past are acknowledged and righted
And the Wolfdog and Bull are in honour united.  

Stock Code: 231754

close zoom-in zoom-out close zoom