Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Hogarth's Gin Lane and Beer Street

Although I had known about the horrors of drinking gin which William Hogarth presented in his 1751 print Gin Lane, I was not aware that it was paired with Beer Street which shows that beer is a much better alternative.

The two prints can be seen in the Internet Archive's scanned version of the 1875 volume, The Works of HogarthGin Lane and Beer Street, but - as I have acquired copies of the prints - I have reproduced the text which accompanies them:

GIN LANE


The great artist conjured up to his imagination, in the picture now before us, a horrible and loathsome neighbourhood, the presiding genius of which is gin. No signs of health—no evidences of gladness are there: disease—wretchedness—and misery everywhere meet the view. All the houses, save one, are falling into ruins; and that one is the dwelling of the pawnbroker, who drives a thriving trade in that dreadful district. For gin is the deity worshipped there: to procure gin no means are left untried; the shocking predilection has fastened itself upon all the inhabitants; and every article of domestic comfort—every household necessary—even to the smallest and meanest portions of raiment, are carried to the pawnbroker, to obtain a few pence for the purchase of gin. Were gin the elixir of life, instead of the bane and the poison, men, women, and children could not display a greater eagerness to obtain a dram. The influence of the fire-water is everywhere apparent,—in the ruined dwellings—the thousand proofs of dire penury and abject wretchedness—and the sickly looks, emaciated frames, trembling limbs, pestiferous breath, carious teeth, livid lips, sunken eyes, and diseased bodies of the people. The countenance of the pawnbroker exhibits the grinding disposition which prompts him to examine well the articles brought by the depraved creatures to his establishment, lest he should lend too much upon them! The very children in that neighbourhood are habituated from their infancy to imbibe the fatal venom.
We behold in one place a boy fast asleep—completely stupefied with the alcoholic liquor, while over him creeps a snail—the emblem of the pawnbroker; and close by is another wretched, neglected, lost child, ravenous with hunger, and gnawing a bare bone, which a cur, equally the victim of famine in a district where gin is bought in preference to food, is endeavouring to snatch from him. Farther on a woman is seen pouring a dram down her infant’s throat—thus almost from the moment of its birth, impregnating its frail constitution with the seeds of disease! Even the very charity-children greedily swallow the burning fluid when they can obtain it—for the taste is acquired from their earliest infancy! One of the lost girls is supplying her mother with the alcoholic poison—thinking, poor ignorant creature! that she is performing a filial duty; while the woman is already in such a filthy state of intoxication, that it is found necessary to wheel her home in a barrow. There, where a house has fallen to ruins, the corpse of a hanging suicide is disclosed: here, seated on the steps of a gin vault, is an emaciated wretch, who has just expired through atrophy; and on the same stairs is a drunken beast in female shape, whose legs have broken out in loathsome ulcers, and who is taking snuff, regardless of her child slipping from her arms into the area of the gin vault. And it is gin—accursed gin, that has driven the man to suicide—that has caused the dead wretch to waste away into consumption and go off like the snuff of a candle—and that has degraded a being in the glorious form of woman to a level with the veriest beasts crawling on the earth’s surface. It is gin, too, that has killed the female whom we behold two men placing in a shell by order of the parish beadle; while the orphan child of the deceased is about to be carried off by that official to the workhouse. Maddening—maddening, too, as well as death-dealing, is gin; and we see a cripple fighting, and a rabid man dancing with a pair of bellows on his head and a spit in his hand. But—oh! frightful spectacle! The wretch, driven furiously insane by gin, has spitted a living child whom its mother has left alone while she visits the gin vault! The entire scene in hideous—horrible to contemplate! Let us suppose that some good genius could arise, and, pointing to that picture, thus address the drunkard:—
“Lost and degraded wretch, wherefore rush thus madly on the road to ruin? Has the vision before you no power to make you pause suddenly, and turn away aghast from the loathsome spectacle? Or will you pursue your career of dissipation, and become a conspicuous character in gin lane? If so, learn somewhat of the histories of those, alive or dead, whom you behold in your dream! And first of the man whom you see through the opening in the ruined wall, hanging to a beam. He was a barber, and an honest, industrious, worthy man. He married a young woman, gifted with great beauty; and his entire hope, his joy, his love, were centred in her. His toils were forgotten in the cheering influence of domestic comfort; and two children blessed the union, at first so auspicious! But his wife became a drunkard; and by that fall, all her poor—her loving—her unfortunate husband’s hopes were blasted: his house became a desert—his children were parentless. In vain did they look to their father—his heart was broken—his mind was in ruins. He had one consolation—an old mother, on whom the protection of his children seemed to rest. Even that was soon over. She could not survive the shame which had crept into her son’s household: she never raised her head—she became hearsed in his misfortunes; and he followed her funeral. Then he himself took to drinking gin, to drown his cares; and the climax of human misery was seen in that once happy home. Wife, parent, future prospects, happiness—all gone for ever! The mother to the tomb—the wife to the gin-shop—the children to the workhouse—and the husband to the halter and the beam!
“Next behold that loathsome woman seated upon the steps, and hear of her! fifteen years ago, when she herself was fifteen—for old and wretched as she seems, she is but thirty now—she was one of the fairest of God’s creatures, and the pride of honoured and doating parents. On a fatal evening she accompanied a young man to a tea-garden; and there she partook of the accursed draught. Gin gave her up as a victim to the seducer—and her parents died of broken hearts. A little while—and behold, every evening— sometimes twice, sometimes thrice—that young female entered the gin vault beneath those steps, to seek in stimulants the artificial gaiety and excitement which were denied by nature and by conscience to her crushed and ruined heart. Alas! poor girl—she was then only seventeen; but the woes of fifty winters were upon her mind! The cold blast of poverty— the searching mists of shame—the storm of an agitated existence—the torrent of reckless passions—the whirlwind of ever-varying emotions—and the eddies of heart-rending feelings, had in two short years all vented their rage upon the intellect, the soul, and the life of that hopeless girl! Oh! wherefore did so young a creature parade the streets in a land of charity and of chivalry, where the female form has held as a patent direct from the Divinity, bearing in its chaste and charmed helplessness the assurance of its strength and the amulet of its protection ? ’Twas gin that rendered the young creature thus abased—thus degraded: ’tis gin that has stripped her of her loveliness—hurried her on through all the varied phases of vice and infamy—until, prematurely old at the age of thirty, you behold her in all the squalor of rags and the loathsomeness of ugliness, seated in drunken apathy on those steps!
“And now contemplate that wasted form, from which crazy tenement the soul has just passed away: mark well that ghastly corpse seated at the bottom of the steps—the steps leading to the palace of Death! Ten times every day, down those steps had lately crawled that living skeleton—clothed in rags—emaciated—blear-eyed—toothless—haggard in countenance, trembling in limbs, shaking in his head, and stammering in his voice. He was but forty years old this day—and looked sixty; and he might still be walking erect, in the prime of life—happy—lively—robust—and hale, had not his whole life been devoted to gin. And yet this besotted wretch persisted to the last in declaring that drink never injured him—that it even did him good—and that he required it. Not injured him!—it consumed his property—it reduced him to rags—it heaped loathsome diseases of all kinds upon him—it made his bones visible through his skin—it pulled out his teeth—it dimmed the fire of his eyes—and it dug his grave at the age of forty!
“Those—those, wretched being, are the effects of gin! It is strong drink that destroys domestic peace, ruins female virtue, conducts the tradesman to ruin, opens the gates of the mad-house, throws chains around the criminal, inspires the wicked with courage to perpetrate crime, establishes workhouses, gilds the sign of the pawnbroker’s shop, and places a bar across the portals of the house of God. From the lips of the gin-glass have myriads drunk damnation: gin is the cause of blows, of strife, of domestic misery, of disease, of death! The anguish of neglected wives—the piteous cries of children famishing through want been of food—the last prayer of the malefactor upon the gibbet—the anathema of the felon whose chains clank in the prison-yard—the woes of an existence lingered out in the workhouse—the howls of lunatics—the dying murmurs of the suicide—the remorseful whisperings of the lost girl’s conscience—the wounds, the tears, the oaths, the shrieks, the screams, the wails,—all, all the tokens of human misery which now exist before you, and which have converted yon once thriving neighbourhood into a charnel-house of horrors—all, everything there depicted, may be traced to gin!”



BEER STREET


The following description of this plate is somewhat abridged from the commentator Trussler’s account:—“We observe in the admirable plate before us, a complete cessation from all labour, and all parties enjoying themselves with a refreshing draught of the cheering liquor, beer. On the left side of the picture, we perceive a group of jolly taproom politicians, a butcher, a drayman, and a cooper. The drayman is evidently whispering soft things into the not-unwilling ear of a servant-maid, who seems to be all attention to what he is saying; a fact which is plainly apparent from the appearance of her eyes and hands, and the general disposition of her figure. From the house-door key in her hands she seems to have come out of some neighbouring house for a tankard of beer which the family is waiting for, and while her figure admirably fills in the foreground of the picture, her loitering by the way gives the artist an opportunity of showing up the idleness of the common order of servants, who neglect their duty and waste their employer’s time in profitless gossiping. The butcher is splitting his sides with laughter to see the girl so easily imposed on, and the cooper behind with a pipe in his mouth, a full pot in one hand, and a shoulder of mutton in the other, plainly shows that where good eating and drinking abound, there true happiness and jollity will be found also. On the right of the picture, is a city-porter who has just set down his load and is recruiting his strength with a draught of the refreshing beverage. The artist has humorously made the porter’s load to consist of trashy books on their way to the trunkmaker’s to be sold for waste paper. In the middle of the plate are seen two fish-women loaded with British herrings. Behind are some paviours at work; further back is a lady of quality in a sedan-chair going to Court; the flag is displayed on the steeple in the distance, denoting a royal birth-day; so corpulent is she, that her chairmen are not able to carry her, without the refreshing stimulus of a pot of porter on the way. Our author has not forgotten to ridicule the enormous size of the hoop in use in those days, which, when pulled up on each side closely resembled the wheels of a carriage. We next notice on the steps of a ladder a painter, ragged but happy, painting the sign of the Barley Mow, and at the top of a house a tailor’s work-shop, whose men within seem to partake of the general joy; the bricklayers on the roof of the next house, are no whit behindhand in expressing the most lively satisfaction at the arrival of the expected beer. This house is an ale house, the landlord of which is supposed to be repairing it, in opposition to his neighbour, Nicholas Pinch, the pawnbroker, who finds it hard to live for want of trade; the man’s house appears decayed, ready to fall in over his head, symptoms well marked by the sign, props, and rat-trap in the chamber; he is seen taking in a half-pint of beer through a hole in his door, not daring to open it, showing that such professions thrive only on the miseries of others, but starve when the public prospers. The general design of this print is to expose the pernicious custom of gin-drinking, whose awful effects are vividly depicted in the plate of Gin Lane, and to show mankind that, if they must have recourse to strong liquors, beer is by far the best and most wholesome stimulus to indulge in.”
Early in the year , the following advertisement was issued:—“On Friday next will be published, price one shilling each, Two large Prints, designed and etched by Mr. Hogarth, called Beer-street and Gin-lane. A number will be printed in a better manner for the curious at s. d. each. And on Thursday following will be published Four Prints on the subject of Cruelty. Price and size the same. n.b. As the subjects of these Prints are calculated to reform some reigning vices peculiar to the lower class of people, in hopes to render them of more extensive use, the author has published them in the cheapest manner possible. To be had at the Golden Head in Leicester-Fields, where may be had all his other Works.”
The following verses under these two Prints were written by the Reverend James Townley:

BEER STREET

Beer, happy product of our Isle
        Can sinewy strength impart,
And, wearied with fatigue and toil,
        Can cheer each manly heart.

Labour and Art, upheld by thee,
        Successfully advance;
We quaff thy balmy juice with glee,
        And Water leave to France.

Genius of Health, thy grateful taste
        Rivals the cup of Jove,
And warms each English generous breast
        With Liberty and Love.


GIN LANE

Gin, cursed fiend! with fury fraught,.
        Makes human race a prey;
It enters by a deadly draught,
        And steals our life away.

Virtue and Truth, driv’n to despair,
        Its rage compels to fly;
But cherishes, with hellish care,
        Theft, Murder, Perjury.

Damn’d cup! that on the vitals preys,
        That liquid lire contains,
Which madness to the heart conveys,
        And rolls it through the veins.

“It is probable,” says a writer of the period, “that Hogarth received the first idea for these two Prints from a pair of others by Peter Breugel which, exhibit a contrast of a similar kind. The one is entitled La grasse Cuisine (‘ the fat Kitchen’): the other La maigre Cuisine (‘the meagre Kitchen’). In the first, all the personages are well-fed and plump; in the second, they are starved and slender. The latter of them also exhibits the figures of an emaciated mother and child, sitting on a straw mat on the ground, whom I never saw without thinking on the female, &c., in Gin Lane. In Hogarth, the fat English blacksmith is insulting the gaunt Frenchman; and in Breugel, the plump cook is kicking the lean one out of doors.”
Of their intentions, Hogarth gives the following account:—“When these two Prints were designed and engraved, the dreadful consequence of gin-drinking appeared in every street. In Gin-lane, every circumstance of its horrid effects is brought to view in terrorum. Idleness, poverty, misery, and distress, which drive even to madness and death, are the only objects that are to be seen: and not a house in tolerable condition but the Pawnbroker’s and Gin-shop. Beer-street, its companion, was given as a contrast; where that invigorating liquor is recommended, in order to drive the other out of vogue. Here all is joyous, and thriving industry and jollity go hand in hand. In this happy place the Pawnbroker’s is the only house going to ruin; and even the small quantity of porter that he can procure is taken in at the wicket, for fear of farther distress.”


The opinion which Hogarth entertained of the writings of Dr. Hill, may be discovered in his Beer Street, where Hill’s critique upon the Royal Society is put into a basket directed to the Trunkmaker, in St. Paul’s Churchyard.


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