Daniel Solander is the Simpling Macaroni

Current exhibition ‘A taste of one’s own medicine; medical satire at the Royal College of Physicians’ displays satirical image and caricatures from the RCP Museum’s print collection, many of them on show for the very first time. The exhibition explores the diverse social, political, and historical contexts in which our satirical prints were produced, and seeks to decipher the complex narratives they contain – but there is only so much that we can fit into an exhibition label. In this blog we dig a little deeper into one of senior curator Lowri Jones’ favourite prints, ‘The Simpling Macaroni’.

The ‘macaroni’ in question is a man, Daniel Carlsson (or Charles) Solander (1733–1782), a Swedish naturalist who studied at Uppsala University under Carl Linnaeus (the botanist best known for developing the system of naming natural organisms that is still used by scientists today). Solander travelled to England in 1760 where he established himself in the field of natural history. During his first few years in England he was employed cataloguing the natural history collections of the then only ten-years-old British Museum[1], and was elected to the Royal Society.


Portrait of Daniel Solander, From the Wellcome Collection.
Daniel Charles Solander. Lithograph by Miss Turner after J. Zoffany. From the Wellcome Collection.


Perhaps most famously, Solander was one of botanists aboard Captain James Cook’s first voyage on the HMS Endeavour. Solander and the naturalist Herman Spöring, alongside a number of others, accompanied Joseph Banks on the voyage, where they made scientific studies of the plants and animals found in the ‘new’ lands they visited and of the movement of the stars. They circumnavigated the globe, visiting South Africa, Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia, returning to England on 12 July 1771.


‘The Simpling Macaroni’ print was published on 13 July 1772, almost exactly a year after Solander returned from his voyage, and the exact day on which Cook set sail on his second voyage – without Banks and Solander, due to a disagreement between Banks and Cook. Banks and Solander instead arranged their own, alternate journey to Iceland and the Hebrides and Orkney Islands that same month.


Although it would be pleasing to think that one of these occurrences spurred the creation of ‘The Simpling Macaroni’ print, it may simply be coincidence. The print is part of a series of ‘Macaroni’ printed caricatures published by husband and wife printers and publishers Matthew and Mary Darly[2] (they also produced one of Joseph Banks in the same series, ‘The Botanic Macaroni’, published 14 Nov 1772). Either way, the inclusion of the two men in the Darlys’ series of caricatures suggest that they were figures in the public eye – well known enough to be recognisable to the Darlys’ customers, and so a worthwhile subject of caricature and of the sort of visual guessing games that they included in their images.


Portrait of Mary Darly, courtesy National Gallery
Image caption: Mary Darly ('The Female Conoiseur'), published by Mary Darly. Hand-coloured etching, published 1 February 1772, NPG D47482 © National Portrait Gallery, London. Licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0


The image is in a similar style to the Darlys’ Macaroni series. Note the caricature held in the sitter’s hand.


‘Macaroni’ was a pejorative term applied to young men who dressed in an extravagant and affected manner linked to continental European fashions. The name references the macaroni pasta popular in Italy, and which many of the wealthy young men who undertook the Grand Tour developed a taste for in the same way that they adopted the European fashions.[3] The 1770s was the heyday of the Macaroni fashion in England.


Despite the title of the image, Solander in ‘The Simpling Macaroni’ is not really dressed as a macaroni. His clothes are not particularly tight or extravagant, and although his wig does have some curls at the edges and a queue (a sort of low ponytail) at the back, visible in its dark wig bag at the back of Solander’s neck, the wig is not the high, bouffant, extravagant style of the Macaroni as depicted in other caricatures. The Darlys are hinting at Macaroni fashion, but caricaturing the trend is not the main point here. Their ‘Macaroni’ series instead links to the tradition of Italian caricature, which was – similarly to the fashion - brought back to Britain by men going on the Grand Tour. Caricature was ‘a favourite parlor game and amusement at country houses among the elite’, where its appeal came from the deformed and exaggerated but still recognisably individual features or personality of specific people. The Darlys became well known for their Macaroni prints, of which they published six sets between 1771 and 1773; their shop became known as ‘The Macaroni Print Shop’. Offering these for sale to those who could afford them, their prints could also be viewed for free in the windows, making caricature more widely available within London. [4]


Portrait of the Simpling Macaroni
The Simpling Macaroni by Matthew and Mary Darly, 13 July 1772.



Let’s turn to the print itself. It depicts a white-wigged, slightly pot-bellied man holding a curved knife and a plant out in front of him. A title, below the image, reads ‘The SIMPLING MACARONI’, and is followed by a short poem:

‘Like Soland-Goose from frozen Zone I wander,/On shallow Bank’s grows fat Sol*****.’


The OED defines ‘simpling’ as ‘[t]he gathering of medicinal herbs’. The curved knife in Solander’s hand is for cutting plants, and he holds a sample that he has just gathered, referencing the specimens that he collected and described while on Cook’s and Banks’ expeditions. Solander likely thought of himself as botanising during the voyages – OED: ‘To look for plants in their natural habitats, for botanical purposes; to study plants botanically’ – but ‘simpling’ has more domestic overtones. Perhaps the image is humourously suggesting that Solander is occupied with what would have been considered women’s work?


The Soland goose is both a play on Solander’s name and a name for the northern gannet, a migrating seabird found along the Atlantic coast. This play on words points to Solander’s travels, with the ‘frozen Zone’ possibly also referencing his visit to Iceland with Banks.


The last line is perhaps the most overtly critical. Banks funded Solander’s presence on both voyages, and the implication here is that Solander is growing ‘fat’ on Banks’ money. It also echoes botanical descriptions of the type the pair would have been writing with the use of ‘grows’ and the double meaning of banks/Banks. And could the ‘shallow’ suggest a comical scepticism at the validity or worth of their expeditions?


In case you hadn’t yet guessed the identity of The Simpling Macaroni from all these clues, the poem ends with the most obvious one yet; a ‘fill in the blanks’ for Solander’s name, ‘Sol*****’.


See ‘The Simpling Macaroni’ in exhibition ‘A taste of one’s own medicine’ at the RCP at Regent’s Park until 2 Dec 2022. You can also view a concise version of the exhibition online, and see the print on our online catalogue.  


Lowri Jones, senior curator


[1] For any readers with an interest in archives and museums, Solander was the creator of the ‘Solander box’ or ‘Clamshell box’ during his employment at the British Museum. These boxes are still sometimes used to store paper-based museum and archive collections, including at the British Museum.

[2] Mary continued the business by herself after her husband’s death in 1780.

[3] Ribeiro A. Meet the Macaronis, History Today, 2019 https://www.historytoday.com/miscellanies/meet-macaronis [Accessed 11 Aug 2022].

[4] Rauser, A. Hair, Authenticity, and the Self-Made Macaroni. Eighteenth-Century Studies 2004;38(Vol 1):108.


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