This large book is a collection of one hundred coloured plates, showing officers from different naval and military ranks, individuals of other non-military occupations, boats and vehicles. Each plate is accompanied by an explanatory essay. These essays are translated into French on the following page.
The writer, James Walker, adopted the artist, John Augustus Atkinson, when the latter was a young boy, and the two collaborated over the course of many years. In 1804 they produced A Picturesque Representation of the Manners, Customs and Amusements of the Russians. They then repeated the format with the British equivalent shown here, albeit with an emphasis on the armed services.
What is it for?
The ‘Prospectus’ suggests that the artist and writer had a patriotic purpose in putting together these plates and essays. They wished to show a country ‘pervaded through all its parts by a spirit of industry and enterprise… whose civil and commercial polity, public and private wealth, and social and domestic enjoyments, have rarely been equalled and never exceeded’. The essays typically praise the industry, skill and appearance of the individuals they describe.
'Soldiers Drilling' and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
One of the plates shows soldiers performing a drill at a military base. The accompanying essay notes how common a sight this would have been following the outbreak of war in 1803. In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the two youngest Bennet girls express great enthusiasm towards the nearby militia regiment. The novel’s plot turns upon the interaction between the village families and the soldiers, first in Meryton and then in Brighton.