Leading article: Public image

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The Independent Online

They're offensive, insulting, bullying, coarse and unkind. They're rude, scabrous, scatological and obscene. But the works of James Gillray are also some of the funniest and finest cartoons ever made.

So, naturally, it's good news that some works by the great 18th-century caricaturist have been discovered in the bowels of the Ministry of Justice. This particular set, which will now be transferred to the Victoria & Albert Museum, was apparently seized by some sort of Victorian vice squad.

Victorian mores have not entirely died out. Indeed, people seem increasingly quick to take offence nowadays. Some subjects, we are told, should be off limits. But Gillray reminds us that crude satire, directed at the powerful and often stupid individuals who seek to rule over us, is more than two centuries old. Political crudity is not only part of our heritage; it's one of Britain's enduring gifts to the world.