William Hogarth’s series A Rake’s Progress was published as a set of eight prints in 1735, in which he charts the despairing life a city rake Tom Rakewell. Hogarth’s central theme in the series is that of moral downfall: how a life of gambling, drinking and debauchery ultimately leads to his complete destruction. Tom’s money runs short, he is chased for debts and imprisoned, and eventually ends his days in the madhouse.
Pictured here is detail of plate four of the series, in which Tom is accosted by bailiffs for unsettled gambling dues. The ragged children’s plight painfully illustrates how poverty penetrated the lives of even the very young in Georgian London. Two bootblacks throw dice in a wager, one of whom has lost his clothes, while around them stand the accoutrements of London’s growing vice of gin drinking, resorted to by the poor as an easy escape from hardship.
- Article by:
- Judith Flanders
- Poverty and the working classes, London
Judith Flanders examines the state of housing for the 19th-century urban poor, assessing the ‘improvements’ carried out in slum areas and the efforts of writers, including Charles Dickens and Henry Mayhew, to publicise such living conditions.
- Article by:
- Matthew White
From the charitable relief of the Poor Law to the grim conditions of the workhouse, Matthew White examines attitudes to the poor in Georgian Britain.