Drink and drunkenness was a familiar feature of daily life in Georgian society and considered the norm for people in all walks of life. In this image taken from William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress, the spendthrift central character Tom Rakewell spends a night of booze-fuelled debauchery in the company of prostitutes, in imitation of what he believes is typical aristocratic behaviour.
Such depictions were grounded in truth. James Boswell’s diaries from the 1790s detail regular excessive drinking in polite company, even to the point of ‘total oblivion’. Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger was famed for being a ‘three bottles a day’ man who thought nothing of attending the House of Commons after downing a bottle of port. One account from the late 1780s details the 50 or so ‘convivial societies’ that existed in London attended by elite businessmen and aristocrats, where events often degenerated into ‘singing, hollowing, wrangling, drinking, toasting, spewing’. As one contemporary later recalled, ‘drinking was the fashion of the day’.