This 1720 broadside, titled "Vonnis Van Apol Over De Bubbels," offers a satirical snapshot of the South Sea Bubble financial crisis. This engraving features Apollo presiding over a divine judgment of financially ruined investors and dealers. Hercules is depicted meting out punishment, and the damned are shown being deported to Hades. Three coats-of-arms representing Amsterdam, Haarlem, and Rotterdam, are displayed amongst a group of women, symbolizing the widespread impact of the economic collapse.
The South Sea Bubble was a notorious financial crisis in early 18th-century Europe, characterized by speculative frenzy and subsequent ruin. The event triggered repercussions across the continent, as depicted in this broadside. Such visual and literary records provide crucial historical context, illuminating public sentiment and the socio-economic upheaval of the period.
The engraving centrally features Apollo, the god of truth and prophecy, reclining on a cloud. Hercules, the symbol of strength and protector of mankind, is shown wielding his club, ready to punish the fallen speculators. The depiction of these classical figures brings a mythological dimension to the scene, underscoring the gravity of the financial disaster in the public eye.
Complementing the engraving, an accompanying poem captures the emotional impact of the crisis. With its vivid personifications and scathing critique, the poem underscores the despair felt by those who were ruined in the speculative bubble. The verse concludes with Apollo's judgment, banishing all those involved in the speculative bubble to Acheron, a river of the underworld in Greek mythology, thereby metaphorically consigning them to oblivion. This broadside serves as an evocative artifact of its era, reflecting the public scorn and disillusionment following the financial debacle.
British Museum translation of the poem:
You poor little Bubbles, well, well,
You are very much in a sad scrape,
With Scoutmaster Francis Humbug,
That sly dog, he is so cunning:
Because while Tupyn incites the bubbles,
That no fiend, nor man, knows them any more
He sits at ease, that thief, that lowlife,
On the Etna with his pyed [saucy] arse,
And flies the flag like a hero,
But Hercules enters the field too,
With his torch, or club, and knocks
Him, and the bubbles, severely about
Wherever Apol keeps his Court of Justice,
With Seven young Gentlewomen, and banishes
With his Sentence, well for good,
All of the Bubble-party to Acheron.