WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Public Ledger

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Public Ledger

Oh, lud.

Distinctions rarely get easier to make out than those between a proper wife and a common prostitute, and that’s exactly what we see between Plates 6 and 7 in Industry and Idleness. Francis Goodchild married well while Tom Idle secured for himself the lowest of all who sell their bodies; the former is respectable while the latter is anything but.

Public Ledger

A prostitute: because, like that paper, she is open to all parties.

Industry and Idleness, Plate 7: The Idle ‘Prentice Return’d from Sea, & in a Garret With a Common Prostitute, by William Hogarth, 30 September 1747, Tate Museum.

From the Tate Museum description:

Idle, too, has been interrupted by noise from outside. But whereas Goodchild acts calmly, having nothing to fear, Idle is startled and terrified. Contrasting with Goodchild’s open door, his is locked, bolted and reinforced with planks of wood. The reason is clear. He and his partner in crime are thieving for a living, the ‘rewards’ of which are examined by the prostitute.

From the Wikipedia description:

For reasons unknown (but probably related to his namesake vice), Tom Idle is back on land again. If he was callous enough to throw out his indenture leaving land, he certainly doesn’t feel bound by any law on his return as he has gone so far as to turn highwayman (more likely footpad) and take up a (dismal) residence with “a common Prostitute”.

…Thomas and his companion are shown living in complete squalor somewhere in London. The sole article of furniture in the room is the broken down bed that Tom and his woman are lying on. She is busy examining the various nonmonetary spoils from his thefts on the highway, including an earring that looks like a gallows. The bottles on the fireplace mantel are suggestive of venereal disease, similar to those of plate 3 in A Harlot’s Progress.

The broken flute and bottle, together with the pair of breeches discarded on the bedclothes, suggest they’ve been spending their time in drunken debauchery. Samuel Ireland suggests that he was doing this to drive away his fears of the law.

The principal event of the scene is a cat falling down the chimney with a few bricks (which strongly suggests the quality of the house they are lodging in), which causes Tom Idle to start up with all the fear of the law on him.

The extremely dilapidated condition of the building, lack of any obvious source of light or fire, and covering over of the window by a hoop petticoat suggest that Idle is in hiding and sparing no pains to keep his location a secret.

Leviticus CHAP: XXVI Ve: 30
The Sound of a Shaken Leaf
shall Chace him.


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

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Humming Liquor

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Humming Liquor

Two weeks ago, I looked at William Hogarth’s engraving of Gin Lane, his depiction of London’s obsession with and addiction to blue ruin. It was equal parts satirical and heartrending.

This week I’m examining its sister piece, the less famous Beer Street. While gin was seen as a drink for the poor and desperate, beer was a drink for the hard-working everyman, a well-deserved reward for a honest day’s work. By the Regency era, gin still drew derision, while beer even came into vogue as a breakfast beverage for lords of the Corinthian set.

Having seen life from inside prison as a young boy when his father was incarcerated for an outstanding debt, Hogarth knew the hardships faced by those in want, and many think it later informed his art.

It definitely seems to have shaped his contrasts between Gin Lane and Beer Street.

Humming Liquor

Double ale, stout pharaoh.

Beer Street, William Hogarth, 1750-51, British Museum.

From the British Museum description:

A flourishing urban scene with well fed citizens; in the foreground, butchers, fish wives and a City of London porter hold large tankards of beer; a butcher lifts a skinny Frenchman into the air with one hand; in the background, paviours repair the street, chairmen carry a stout lady, tailors sew in a well lit attic, builders work on the roof of a house clad with scaffolding, and a warehouseman hauls a barrel to an upper storey – all are drinking beer; poverty appears only in the ragged coat of the artist painting the tavern sign and, more particularly, in the collapsing house of “N Pinch Pawn Broker”.

From the Wikipedia description:

In comparison to the sickly hopeless denizens of Gin Lane, the happy people of Beer Street sparkle with robust health and bonhomie. “Here all is joyous and thriving. Industry and jollity go hand in hand”. The only business that is in trouble is the pawnbroker: Mr Pinch lives in the one poorly maintained, crumbling building in the picture. In contrast to his Gin Lane counterpart, the prosperous Gripe, who displays expensive-looking cups in his upper window (a sign of his flourishing business), Pinch displays only a wooden contraption, perhaps a mousetrap, in his upper window, while he is forced to take his beer through a window in the door, which suggests his business is so unprofitable as to put the man in fear of being seized for debt. The sign-painter is also shown in rags, but his role in the image is unclear.

The rest of the scene is populated with doughty and good-humoured English workers. It is George II’s birthday (30 October) (indicated by the flag flying on the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields in the background) and the inhabitants of the scene are no doubt toasting his health. Under the sign of the Barley Mow, a blacksmith or cooper sits with a foaming tankard in one hand and a leg of beef in the other. Together with a butcher—his steel hangs at his side—they laugh with the pavior (sometimes identified as a drayman) as he courts a housemaid (the key she holds is a symbol of domesticity). Ronald Paulson suggests a parallel between the trinity of signs of ill-omen in Gin Lane, the pawnbroker, distiller, and undertaker, and the trinity of English “worthies” here, the blacksmith, pavior, and butcher. Close by a pair of fish-sellers rest with a pint and a porter sets down his load to refresh himself. In the background, two men carrying a sedan chair pause for drink, while the passenger remains wedged inside, her large hoop skirt pinning her in place. On the roof, the builders, who are working on the publican’s house above the “Sun” tavern share a toast with the master of a tailor’s workshop. In this image it is a barrel of beer that hangs from a rope above the street, in contrast to the body of the barber in Gin Lane.

Beer, happy Produce 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!


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