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.