Punch, XXXIII (August 8, 1857): 55

"The Asiatic Mystery as Prepared by Sepoy D'Israeli"

his engraving, done shortly after the Indian Mutiny of 1857, portrays Benjamin Disraeli as an emaciated Indian sepoy squatting in a thatched hut. Clad only in a loincloth, Sepoy D'Israeli stirs a cauldron labeled "For the House of Commons" with his fists clenched around a bamboo stirring rod. Disraeli is portrayed with dark skin and a prominent nose. His profile suggests slight prognathousness, hence racial inferiority. He squats on the floor of the hutwith his back to the outside world. This posture suggests that Sepoy D'Israeli's cooking is a secretive act by an insular Asiatic. If his clenched fists, stern profile, and dark skin do not suggest nefarious purposes, the bottle of "King of Oude's Sauce" behind him cements it. This secretive cauldron-stirring suggests witchcraft, a standard medieval calumny against Jews. The hot sauce and pickles he puts in the food to make it spicy are suggestive of the overall message of the cartoon; Disraeli, himself an Oriental, cooks a spicy concoction for his fellow Orientals to incite them to rebellion. Their unstable temperament is therefore in part a product of environment -- spicy foods which inflame the emotions but are otherwise malnourishing. The title of the engraving reveals its overall theme. It is an ironic commentary on Benjamin Disraeli's "Asiatic Mystery" from his novel Tancred, the idea that divine revelation is only bestowed upon Jews and Arabs. Far from debunking this romantic ancestor-worship, the Punch cartoonist expands the paradigm into a conspiracy. The implication is that Jews, Arabs, Indians, and other Orientals are in league with each other to the detriment of Great Britain.

Victorian initial "T" by Harlan Wallach ©copyright 1994.]

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