Anthony Trollope's ""John Bull on the Guadalquivir" ("Spanish Story")

Written 1860 (1 - 7 June)
Serialized 1860 (17 & 24 November), Cassell's Illustrated Family Paper
Published in a book 1861 (November), Tales of All Countries: First Series, Chapman and Hall

The discussion, such as it was, centered on where the name, John Bull, came from; I first queried a list where I thought there might be people who would know:

To C18-l:

Re: "John Bull on the Guadalquivir" This week I read with a class I am teaching a short story by Anthony Trollope, "John Bull on the Guadalquivir," and a student asked where the name "John Bull" came from. I was wondering if anyone could tell me where to look or where it came from. I ask on this list because I have a memory (from the teasing John Arbuthnot was subjected to) that the phrase is at least as old as the 18th century and possibly earlier. For example, in Linda Colley's Britons a satirical cartoon from 1792 appears in which a "Sawney Scot" and a "John Bull" are contrasted; the English self-mockery in the name and the drawing are then clearly well-established by the close of the 18th century.

Ellen Moody

From: Peter A Tasch
Re: "John Bull"

I hope John Arbuthnot is the source for the name John Bull (as the other correspondents have told you) because I have written the entry for "John Bull" in the forthcoming (always forthcoming and not yet arriving) Hanoverian Encyclopedia. It's a pleasant irony that Scots writers and caricaturists popularized the name before the English did. Bull was a familiar figure in political cartoons especially in the second half of the century. George Colman's comedy, John Bull really creates the sympathetic character of Bull, but both Tories and Whigs appropriated him in the early l9th century. Tory Theodore Hook, for instance, edited a journal of that name. Luckily I have all my notes and the essay itself safely in school so I can't bore you further with more data. There was a good article in Past & Present a couple or three years ago in which the author brought Bull up to his somewhat anticlimactic present as a figurehead for a product. If you wish for more such information, let me know and I'll retrieve the essay since it is irretrievably lost to my memory otherwise. Sincerely, Peter

From: Walter Felscher
Re: "John Bull"

My dictionary mentions some John Bull, organist at the court of James I , who supposedly wrote 'God save the king' on the occasion of (the fortunate outcome) of the gunpowder plot.


Someone objected that the 1911 Britannica said John Bull wrote the tune in 1619..

Subject: God save the king

Mrs. Moody asked about John Bull, to whose origin I cannot reply more than what can be found in the 'Oxford Companion to English Literature' where the setting of Arbuthnot's play is described.

But looking into the dictionaries I came, of course, across Dr.John Bull, he composer to Elisabeth and James, and while he died already in the 17th c. , the is some oddity which may be amusing also to dixhuitemists

My sources are at variance as to who composed the tune to the text in the Subject above. Some mention Dr. Bull (on occasion of the fortunate outcome of the gunpowder plot), but the great Marchaud mentions Jean-Baptiste Lully who, writing for Louis XIV and according to the Marquise de Crequi, is said to have used the text

Grand Dieu, sauvez le roi!
Grand Dieu, vengez le roi!
Vive le roi!
Que, toujour glorieux,
Louis victorieux!
Voie ses pieds ses ennemis
Grand Dieu, sauvez le roi
Grand Dieu, vengez le roi!
Vive le roi!

sung when his majesty once visited the convent de St.Cyr.

It would be interesting to know whether, in more recent times, the originf our tune has been settled definitely. Lully, and even more so his text, so far appears an intriguing possibility, and would there not have been the unfortunate events of 1789 and 1830, Roger de Lisle's vulgar tune would never have taken the place it now occupies.


I believe the earliest literary use of the term was in John Arbuthnot's satire, LAW IS A BOTTOMLESS PIT (1712), later published as THE HISTORY OF JOHN BULL. But the term had been in colloquial use before then.

Michael Thorn

From Paul G. Beidler:

I can't tell you anything about the origin, but I can recommend Washington Irving's "John Bull" in The Sketch Book (1819-20). It's a great description. Here's one paragraph:

John Bull, to all appearance, is a plain matter-of-fact fellow, with much less poetry about him than rich prose. There is little of romance in his nature, but a vast deal of strong natural feeling. He excels in humor more than in wit; is jolly rather than gay; melancholy rather than morose; can easily be moved to a sudden tear, or surprised into a broad laugh; but he loathes sentiment, and has no turn for light pleasantry. He is a boon companion, if you allow him to have his humor, and to talk about himself; and he will stand by a friend in a quarrel, with life and purse, however soundly he may be cudgelled.

Paul G. Beidler
University of Toronto

Robert Wright's introduction:

As an introduction to the part of Spain in which this story is set, please see

where you will find photographs and a light hearted description of Seville, Jerez (spelled by Trollope Xeres - the place where the bodegas of sherry making are located ) Cordoba and other parts of Andalusia.

Robert J Wright email

Marian Poller asked if the incident was autobiographical because it felt so real. I responded?

Dear Marian and all,

According to John Sutherland, Trollope is retelling one of his own experiences and thus laughing at himself. Trollope travelled to Spain 23-28 April 1858 and N. John Hall writes:

"After an inspection of postal services at Gibraltar, Trollope was able to take a 6 day holiday about southern Spain ... [Trollope recounted] one of his own experiences when the narrator and a friend, travelling up the Guadalquivir to Seville, mistake a Spanish Duke -- who understood English -- for a bullfighter; the two Englishmen admire his 'outlandish' dress, figner the gold buttons and tages, even hold upo the man's arm to 'see the cut of his coat, making all the while condescending remarks. The Spaniard takes the incident good-humouredly, but (as Trollope said in his An Autobiography) when his identity is made known, 'how thoroughly he covered us with ridicule'" (see Early Short Stories, pp 482-83, n.157)

It is also a love story of sorts. The young man is gradually divested of alse romantic notions which are replaced with the humility and generosity of true romance, such as we can find it in the bourgeois world. The feeling of this story at the end is sweet. This feeling almost makes up for the rest.


When the group got to "A Ride Across Palestine", we had quite an excited discussion about whether it was a story about a closet homosexual; during the course of discussing it I compared its use of the first person narrator to the use of the first person narrator in "John Bull on the Guadalquivir" as follows:

But how do we make sense of the story as a story, as a work of art and not a fragment broken off from a man's autobiography disguised? Well first I would refer to James Kincaid's book on Trollope where he argues a central factor in the complex moods, psychological depths, and popularity of Trollope's novels may be found in his many different uses of the narrator throughout his novels: as with Fielding and Thackeray, it is this presence in the stories which we enjoy; it is he who guides, cajoles, amuses, and points the ironies for us. In his short stories, Trollope takes this further: he plays with an unreliable narrator who cannot only not see the events that are occurring in front of him (which anyone with half a brain and alert to the most obvious hints would), but remains blind to his own lack of understanding of the emotions of the people around him, and most importantly, of his own moral failings. The stories are small playgrounds or toys for Trollope: in them he can play with technique as well as present risqué material.

This I take it is the point of "John Bull on the Guadilquavir". Pomfret is good-natured and well-meaning, but as a young man he was an ass. In this story we have the older Pomfret tell the story from the point of view of the younger and from present time. I think the story does not succeed because in order to keep the irony up, the narrator is not allowed to see inside his own mistakes so the older man cannot tell us the man he and Johnson humiliate is a count until much later; he cannot analyze himself when young or the comedy is lost. This makes us read the older man as still dense, and we are then hard put to believe Maria could be happy with this man now though it's clear we are to see that the young Maria saw further into the heart of the the nsensitive foolishly romantic clown to find some solid gold therein. This story could not be told from Maria's point of view; its moral pattern would be lost.

Another story which uses point of view in a comic and ironic way if "The Man Who Kept His Money in a Box"; if told from another point of view the story would not exist. The puzzle is in the mind of the narrator ...

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