WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Canary Bird

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Canary Bird

We’ve seen fresh-faced, country girl Moll Hackabout arrive in London, hit the harlotry jackpot and become a mistress, only to fall a few rungs into prostitution. This week, with Plate 4, she has fallen further and is now in jail (or gaol, if you prefer).

It’s amazing the amount of sympathy I feel for Moll, as compared to Tom Rakewell from A Rake’s Progress. For me, I feel that Moll came to London innocently enough, hoping for the best, although I wonder if she was warned on the coach along the way, that little good turned out for girls on their own in Town. In contrast, Tom Rakewell earns my ire, having been given every advantage only to squander them, despite having several chances to repent and escape his ultimate fate. Moll finally looks defeated in this plate, too, which somehow makes it worse.

A Harlot’s Progress was a series of six paintings and engravings. The paintings were destroyed in a fire at Fonthill House in 1755, but the original engraving plates survived, and are in the public domain.

Canary Bird

A jail bird, a person used to be kept in a cage. Prisoners.

A Harlot’s Progress – Plate 4 – Moll Beats Hemp in Bridewell Prison, by William Hogarth, 1732, British Museum.

From the Wikipedia description:

Moll is in Bridewell Prison. She beats hemp for hangman’s nooses, while the jailer threatens her and points to the task. Fielding would write that Thwackum, one of Tom Jones’s sadistic tutors, looked precisely like the jailer. The jailer’s wife steals clothes from Moll, winking at theft. The prisoners go from left to right in order of decreasing wealth. Moll is standing next to a gentleman, a card-sharp whose extra playing card has fallen out, and who has brought his dog with him. The inmates are in no way being reformed, despite the ironic engraving on the left above the occupied stocks, reading “Better to Work/ than Stand thus.” The person suffering in the stocks apparently refused to work.

Moll, the Jailer, and His Wife, from A Harlot’s Progress – Plate 4 – Moll Beats Hemp in Bridewell Prison, by William Hogarth, 1732, British Museum.

Next is a woman, a child who may suffer from Down syndrome (belonging to the sharper, probably), and finally a pregnant African woman who presumably “pleaded her belly” when brought to trial, as pregnant women could not be executed or transported. A prison graffito shows John Gonson hanging from the gallows. Moll’s servant smiles as Moll’s clothes are stolen, and the servant appears to be wearing Moll’s shoes.

Prisoners and Moll’s Servant from A Harlot’s Progress – Plate 4 – Moll Beats Hemp in Bridewell Prison, by William Hogarth, 1732, British Museum.


Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Gentleman of Three Ins

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Gentleman of Three Ins

Lots of things come in threes.

Little pigs. French hens. Little kittens. Feet in a yard. BLT ingredients. Brontë sisters.

Sometimes frightening things come in threes: witches in Macbeth, Cerebrus’s heads, Hanson brothers. And this week’s slang.

Gentleman of Three Ins

In debt, in gaol, and in danger of remaining there for life; or, in gaol, indicted, and in danger of being hanged in chains.

I wrote several posts last year concerning the perilous nature of gaols and imprisonment in Regency England, which can be found here, here, here, and here. I won’t rehash the past, but instead rely on my dear Mr. Gillray to provide some period figurative illustrations rather than literal interpretations of this week’s slang.

In debt:

John Bull ground down by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 1 June 1795, National Portrait Gallery.

From the British Museum:

John Bull’s head and shoulders emerge from a gigantic coffee-mill. He is being ground by Pitt into guineas which pour from the spout of the machine into the inverted coronet of the Prince of Wales, held out by the Prince (left). The Prince points out his harvest of coins to a row of creditors. John Bull, his hands clasped, shrieks “Murder! Murder!” Pitt (right), both hands on the handle, is working hard, stripped to his shirt. His coat lies across an enormous heap of guineas on which he rests his left knee. He says: “God save great George our Ki . . .” Behind him, and in the upper right corner of the design, is the crown, the centre of a sun whose rays extend behind Pitt’s head, with the words: “Grind away! grind away grind away Billy! never mind his bawling! Grind away.” Other words from the crown are directed towards the victim: “What! – What! – what! Murder hay? why, you poor Stupe, is it not for the good of your Country? hay? hay”. Between Pitt and the post of the mill Dundas and Burke are grovelling for guineas: Burke, frowning, uses both hands; Dundas, who wears a plaid, fills his Scots cap.

In gaol:

Exaltation of Faro’s Daughters by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 12 May 1796, British Museum.

From the British Museum:

Lady Buckinghamshire (left) and Lady Archer (right) stand side by side in the pillory, heads and hands closely confined, their heads in profile to the right, weeping angrily. Both wear tall feathers in their hair and large pendent ear-rings. Lady Buckinghamshire is forced to stand painfully on tip-toe, a short petticoat exposes her fat legs. On the front of the platform is a placard: ‘Cure for Gambling Publish’d by Lord Kenyon in the Court of Kings Bench on May 9th 1796’. This is raised above the heads of the crowd, with grinning upturned faces in the foreground. Eggs, a cat, &c. fly through the air; the pillory and the dresses of the victims are bespattered. On the right is a house with spectators in the windows.

Hanging in:

Hanging. Drowning. by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 9 November 1795, National Portrait Gallery.

From the Historical and Descriptive Account of the Caricatures of James Gillray:

Fox. Pitt. Dundas. Another allusion to the love of the two Ministers for the bottle. It represents the different feelings with which the different parties in this country were supposed to have looked upon the decline of Republican principles in France at this time.

And lest we forget, three is a magic number.


Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.