Monstrous Fellowship

‘Pagan, Turk and Jew’ in English Popular Culture, 1780–1845

by Toni Wein (Author)
©2018 Monographs X, 336 Pages


This book brings together a range of texts and events: nineteenth-century novels and plays, riots on the streets and stages of London, popular games, artwork, criminal profiles and political economy. Tying these topics together is the spectacle created around «Pagan, Turk and Jew», a phrase appearing as early as 1548, and one that came to denominate fictional stand-ins for Irish Catholics, Muslims and Jews during the long nineteenth century.
Beginning with the Gordon riots of 1780, these «Others» were objectified as exotic bodies and used oppositionally against one another, both in policy and legislation and in cultural representations. Surveying literary works by Maria Edgeworth and Charles Dickens, as well as the work of lesser known figures such as Richard Cumberland, John Thomas Smith and Patrick Colquhoun, the author studies the role played by racial marking and ethnic stereotyping in the solidification of a post-riot British social body through both real and virtual spaces. Unlike other studies of minority experience and culture that concern a single population, this book casts a wider net, believing racist and religious bias to be a reactionary dynamic, prey to a host of struggles occurring simultaneously that ricochet off one another in the contestatory culture of the Romantic era.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Settling Terms, Terms of Settlement
  • Chapter 1: Red Jews and Northern Hordes: George Gordon and the Riots
  • Chapter 2: The Racial Geography of Political Economy
  • Chapter 3: Moving Shadows: Theatre and the Play of Ethnicity
  • Chapter 4: The Counterfeit Real
  • Chapter 5: Reinventing Abraham
  • Chapter 6: Razing Gordon’s Ghost
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

← vi | vii →


← viii | ix →


Great generosity has supported this project from its inception. The NEH Summer Seminar, ‘Representations of the Other: The Jews in Medieval Christendom,’ Oxford, England (2006), led by brilliant scholars Irven Resnick, Jeremy Cohen, Daniel J. Lasker, Sara Lipton, Robert Stacey, and Miri Rubin, gave me a start, the necessary background in history and methodology, and copious time alone in the Bodleian. The Huntington Library made me a Mayers Fellow in 2007, enabling access to the incomparable Larpent collection. Librarians at the Houghton Collection, Harvard, at JTS, the Bancroft, and the Bodleian shared their expertise and their knowledge of arcane materials germane to my interests; the truly remarkable librarians at my home institution, California State University, Fresno, found copies of more rare resources and made it possible for me to have them at my disposal. Throughout the process, Deans Saul Jiménez-Sandoval and Honora Chapman in the College of Arts and Humanities sponsored my efforts by providing release time, financial help, and large doses of encouragement.

As much as institutional aid mattered, I neither could nor would have completed this project without the personal encouragement and feedback of friends and colleagues. I thank my editor at Peter Lang, Dr Laurel Plapp, her assistant Laura-Beth Shanahan and my anonymous reader for their stringency and direction. Early (and late) stages of my thinking benefited from the suggestions of Richard Hardack, Heidi Kaufman, Flossie Lewis, Leila May, Don Palmer, Brynn Shiovitz, and Bo Wang. Members of the Nineteenth Century Studies Association, with whom I served throughout the course of this project, suffered through annual iterations and offered ideas. A rare few offered intellectual and emotional support: Judith Page, with whom I shared several panels on Maria Edgeworth at conferences, intervened at a crucial moment of ← ix | x → doubt and propped up my determination; Ann Berliner, my true champion, read the entire manuscript with scrupulous care and kindness and helped me untangle my own thinking. Without their unwavering faith and inspiration, I could not have carried on to completion. What flaws remain, I own.

← x | 1 →


Settling Terms, Terms of Settlement

This November, when the air will bite just enough to shiver the attention, the newly elected Lord Mayor of the Square Mile will depart from Guildhall. He, for it is always a He, will travel via an ornate coach built in 1757 and costing at the time more than ₤100,000; he will be accompanied by representatives of the ‘Great Livery Companies,’ and by volunteers bearing giant wicker statues, as though the past had suddenly come to life and disgorged the shape of huge not-yet-burning men. These statues are the portable versions of two larger and heavier carved icons in the Guildhall itself. Their names are Gog and Magog.

The wicker from which these simulacra are woven hints at their Druid connection. Gog and Magog are said to be the spawn of the pagan daughters of the Roman Emperor Diocletian and the demons who inhabited the British isles. When, after the fall of Troy, Brutus made his way to the isles, he tamed the last remnants of the pagan giants, Gog and Magog, or sometimes Gogmagog and Corineus, chaining them up to serve as watch dogs. By the second decade of the fifteenth century, carved statues loomed over the gates of Guildhall. By 1554, they had made their first appearance in the Lord Mayor’s show. Thomas Boreman summed up the public’s reverence in his ‘Gigantick History’ of 1741:

Corineus and Gogmagog were two brave giants who richly valued their honour and exerted their whole strength and force in the defence of their liberty and country; so the City of London, by placing these, their representatives in their Guildhall, emblematically declare, that they will, like mighty giants defend the honour of their country and liberties of this their City; which excels all others, as much as those huge giants exceed in stature the common bulk of mankind.1 ← 1 | 2 →

Drawing on the sketchy account given by Geoffrey of Monmouth, historians sometimes read the legend as part of the attempt to connect Celtic royalty with a Greek heroic lineage. By the mid-nineteenth century, they were viewed as icons for Briton and Saxon.2

This brief textual history of an easy assimilation from pagan fiend to Christian protector gets complicated visually as images of Gog/Magog multiply. A broader and more tangled history unfurls itself on the faces carved on the Guildhall statues. There, the blondness of the wicker giants disappears, replaced by swarthy complexions on hairy giants, scowling beneath raven tresses that set off their dark skin. Their noses are aquiline, but their nostrils flare and their eyeballs bulge under brows fiercely constricted, the furrows forming a crescent moon and giving them an ‘Oriental’ cast.

Such a metamorphosis bespeaks their protean nature. The legend of these giants forms a fascinating chapter not only in the Old and New Testaments, but also in British, Irish and Turkish myth. Perhaps even more fascinating than its sheer duplication in so many cultures is the transformation wreaked upon the legend by each culture. Originally named in Genesis as sons of Japheth, and thus grandsons of Noah, an aura of evil gradually descends upon them, as they cease being regarded as good neighbors to the north of Biblical Israel and get recast as a warring nation of nihilistic force, identified with Turkey, in Ezekiel. From Ezekiel, they pass to John’s Revelation, for whom their names trumpet Armageddon: an apocalyptic vision of evil Jews awaiting their signal from the Devil to stream out of the north and attack Christ and his followers at the end of time. ← 2 | 3 →

Their subsequent history demonstrates the fluidity with which myths pass from group to group, like pool balls changing trajectory with each ethnic collision. While early Christians viewed Gog and Magog as religious enemies and identified them with Jews specifically, the Jews themselves use Gog and Magog to explain persecution. By the end of the first century CE, the writings of Josephus show us that Jews had learned to associate Gog and Magog with the Scythians, or marauding hordes from Persia who had conquered the Crimea in the eighth and seventh centuries BCE, and who were said to have been locked up behind a wall in the Caucasus by Alexander the Great.

In the pagan tradition as recorded in the Irish Lebor Gabála Érenn, the legend maps neatly against some of the conventions detailed above before deviating. The Lebor Gabála Érenn confirms the association with the Scythians and connects Irish to Greek origins, since Japeth is said to found all Greece and afterwards Europe. But Magog becomes a direct descendant of Japheth, so that Biblical characters step forth from the pages of the divine book to populate a distant pagan coast.3 From there, they roam to the Crimean, the ‘pagan’ Irish progenitors of Islam.

In the Christian version, the Scythians turn into the lost ten Tribes of Israel. There had already existed a Hebrew legend that the ten lost tribes would return to gather the Jews dispersed through Diaspora. Medieval authors connected this idea to the legend of Alexander, which held that Alexander had imprisoned the ten lost tribes in the Caspian Mountains. Notice the switch here: the players change, but the scenario remains the same. When Antichrist arrived, the tribes would be unleashed from their mountain stronghold to attack and obliterate the Christians.4 German ← 3 | 4 → speakers in the early modern period complicated the legend by adding a new twist, what Deborah Strickland has called the ‘most extreme elaboration on the idea that Jews would play a major role as supporters of Antichrist and as the personifications of Gog and Magog.’5 As she summarizes, ‘the Hebrew legend of the Ten Lost Tribes was merged with the identification of Gog and Magog as Jewish destroyers of Christendom,’ and eventuated in the notion of ‘a dangerous strain of superhuman Hebrews known as the Red Jews.’6

Visually, the genealogical patchwork gets repeated and reworked. In the Guildhall, Gog has golden laurel leaves circling his brow and wears what looks like Roman armor; Magog wears similar armor but carries a phoenix-embossed shield, giving him an Egyptian heritage. Whereas Magog appears the fiercer of the two icons in the Guildhall, their somewhat compressed stature undercuts any real sense of menace. A pair very different in appearance grace the Royal Arcade in Australia; there, Gog has been typed as far more aboriginal, with his wild, flowing beard and his walrus moustache. Magog, in contrast, looks trimmer, more civilized.

These statues are of fairly recent date. Their predecessors, carved in 1708 to replace the originals destroyed by mice and time, were lost in the Blitz. Enough etchings and illustrations remain, however, to give us a sense of the aspect they bore. In those older images, Gog wears what appears to ← 4 | 5 → be a sheaf of arrows just visible over his shoulder, though no bow can be seen. In his right hand he holds a flail from which depends a spiked ball on a swinging chain. Magog holds emblems of more peaceful intent. Even though he holds a pike, the weapon is turned so that the spears could just as easily represent a cross. Both are smiling, open, relaxed.7

Like a weathervane, the pose taken by these two emblematic figures varies to accommodate the public role needed. Alternately villain and hero, destroyer and protector; founder of a new city or a new people yet always alone; they are also simultaneously Pagan, Turk and Jew, a grouping that appears first in the newly minted Common Prayer Book of 1548, where the collect for Good Friday’s communion service implores God’s compassion on ‘all Jewes, Turkes, Infidels, and heretikes.’ The grouping spreads in use beyond the confines of religious discourse at the same time it condenses to a phrase, ‘Pagan, Turk and Jew,’ creating in the process a catalogue of miscreants outside the Pale that lingers to nag British iconography and thought, despite its anachronisms.8 The legend of Gog and Magog ties those peoples’ fortunes together, just as the phrase ‘Pagan, Turk and Jew’ will yoke them together and convey the idea of them as the sum of all horrors, an idea as subject to the vagaries of time and taste as the legends of Gog and Magog.

The very persistence of the term ‘Pagan, Turk and Jew’ exists in odd tension with a confusion and profusion of identities. The OED records ← 5 | 6 → the term ‘infidel’ as strongly implying a ‘Muhammadan, a Saracen’ (the earliest sense in English); strangely, though, it also notes that the term was ‘(more rarely), applied to a Jew, or a pagan.’ These terms not only grow more slippery over time, they get weaponized in political battles over religion. In England from 1563, Protestants begin to refer to Catholics as heretics; Catholics repay the favor in kind. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Protestants whose hatred of the papacy helped them see a potential ally in the Turk metamorphose into Calvino-Turks, part of a long tradition Ian Almond traces from ‘Edward Pococke to Nietzsche’s “peace with Islam, war with Rome” of evaluating the Catholic Church severely through Islamic lenses.’ Julie Straight identifies Mahometanism as ‘shorthand for threats to British religious beliefs and national security,’ which makes sense of the way Ireland was historically conflated with the Orient. And we view those conflations on the faces of Gog and Magog.9

This book records their joint fame and attempts to explain it: two legends, two sets of recurring popular tropes; a stable history of unstable images, whose frequency of appearance seems to accelerate in the long Romantic period, and whose valence seems to hover between censure and ← 6 | 7 → praise, acceptance and rejection. As we will see, ‘Turks’ is code for Muslim on many different continents, as well as for Jews by 1834; while a ‘Jew’ is both a wealthy Sephardi and an impoverished Eastern European immigrant.10 Paganism, the expression of a primitive and superstitious relationship to the world, dominated by propitiary ritual and sacrifice, becomes the source of and a metonym for Irish Catholicism.

The history of this semantic slippage early reveals the way that categories serve politics in the period, a topic I highlight in Chapter 2. Etymologically, pagan refers to pre-Christian beliefs, which fits well with Irish geography and the Church history of early Christian missions to Ireland.11 A major salvo in the project of collapsing Pagan with Irish Catholic was fired by Conyers Middleton’s 1729 Letter from Rome, shewing an exact Conformity between Popery and Paganism. Middleton’s book went through three printings in as many years, and was still current in England and America in the mid-nineteenth century. Middleton calls Catholicism a ‘Christianized Paganism,’ and his equation between ‘Pagan’ and Irish lasts.12 Church ← 7 | 8 → divines reached to these Biblical metaphors not solely out of habit and training. The more Protestantism wanted to present itself as a rational religion, the more it needed to disassociate itself from any connection to superstition. Hence, a careful lineage had to be constructed whereby Protestantism freed itself from the taint of the irrational.13

We can descry this dilemma in Middleton’s work, so determined to fix the Catholics as Pagans. His project ironically depends on dragging in the Jews. In his schema, the Protestants ally themselves with the Jews, albeit briefly. Middleton cites the Torah as proof that the Jews were to destroy all pagan practices, all of which he finds revivified in Rome. He can maintain the purity of Protestantism, because Judaism was disgraced and discarded; it was ‘remote, despised, and demolished by the Romans themselves.’ Judaism has no purity: Jewish rites he calls ‘abominable still.’14 ← 8 | 9 → When Bishop Lowth later refers to ‘Popery’ as ‘that more than Egyptian darkness,’ he adopts the designations given by Middleton but goes him one better: his coupling combines Catholic and Muslim, Irish and Turk. Biblical knowledge reroutes the allusion: since Moses and Aaron call down ‘Egyptian darkness,’ the curse both falls on and emanates from the Jews.15


X, 336
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (November)
The Gordon riots the social body the counterfeit a hybrid realm between the virtual and actual ethnic performance Pagan, Turk and Jew
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2018. X, 336 pp., 4 fig. col., 4 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Toni Wein (Author)

Toni Wein is Professor of English at California State University, Fresno. After an early career in theatre, she received her PhD in English literature from the University of California, Berkeley, specializing in the Romantic period. She has previously taught at Berkeley, Gettysburg College and Princeton. She is the author of British Identities, Heroic Nationalisms, and the Gothic Novel, 1764–1824 (2002) and has published essays on the Irish landscape, theatrical representations of Jews, ecocriticism and authorial aggrandizement from Horace Walpole to Maria Edgeworth.


Title: Monstrous Fellowship
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348 pages