Monthly Archives: September 2011

Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress Plate 4

(click to enlarge full size)

Moll is fast coming to a grave end.  She’s been apprehended by Sir John Gonson, imprisoned for her profligate ways, and thrown in the hemp workhouse with the rest of “her kind” (presumably said with a sneer and a slimy smile).

Sneering, indeed, was the chief way Moll achieved her fame with the living, breathing public that consumed her.  The public loved her–and by her I mean every country girl turned whore by ill luck and toes up fate.  She was an object of derision, of pity and glances staying only so long as to see her rise and meteoric fall.  What was Moll but just another low woman treading the worn path of death?   One foot into the Bell Inn and her destiny was already shaped, be it through the usual killer, the pox, or by hanging once her fading looks forced her into thievery.

Either way, Moll’s one ladybird that ain’t gonna fly long.  She’s found her cage.  Bridewell.  On Fleet River.  It is better than the flogging room where before hemp and beetles women were beaten as a proper punishment:

In addition to the pillory and sign behind her reading “Better to work than to stand thus”, Moll’s got a lot to worry about.  The gaoler is singling her out, demanding she press on harder while his wife is greedily plucking at Moll’s neckerchief and winking at her husband.  Moll looks a trifle alarmed standing there in her floral pettitcoat, partly because she’s nervous it’s going to be ripped off her and partly because she’s wondering, “how the bloody hell did I get here?”

Although Bridewell was mainly a prison for women, the gentleman to her left gained his hemp duty due to cards.  They’re on the floor, shredded in half near the relaxed dog that seems to mind not the least the beating of hemp.  The woman and two girls to his left are likely his family, imprisoned alongside him until they’ve earned back his debt.  The larger of the two girls doesn’t look entirely fit for the workhouse, perhaps suffering from a physical condition or a mental illness, but neither she nor the pregnant woman further down can expect full reprieve.

Going round the room, Moll’s servant is relishing this moment, we might say with schadenfreude.  Instead of sympathizing with the her mistress’ plight, she’s grinning while adjusting Moll’s worn stocking on her thick legs.  While also sitting.  What earned her this privilege (or is Moll just the bigger fish?) and why is the  mobcapped woman beside her occupied with scraping Moll’s lace?

Aside from the unfortunate persons populating the room, another aspect of interest–which unfortuantely fails to show in the picture–is the rudimentary hangman drawing beneath the window.  The name “Gonson” is written nearby.  Gonson, if you remember, was the magistrate from the Society for the Reformation of Manners.  He hauled Moll in and if we are to infer anything by his cartoonish state, the prisoners, notably harlots, blame him for their current predicament.

A placard stating “The Wages of Idleness” (translation: how all the prisoners got here), takes another aim at Moll’s real sin.  For the first time since her arrival in plate 1, she’s wearing her work apron.  The hemp she’s forced to beat is just one of the various tasks in the workhouse, but it may have further signifance because hemp was used for the hangman’s noose.  Not only that, it’s tough, lacerating the neck when used to choke or hang someone.  Given that Moll’s outlet outside prositution is thievery as suggested in her association with James Dalton in plate 3, would she possibly have pounded the hemp that would one day end her life?  Circumstances lead her elsewhere but like everything Hogarth, there’s a little irony involved, isn’t there?

Missed the other plates?

A Lady’s Weapon Against Stench: Pomanders and Vinaigrettes

When I get past the the overall sumptousness of the Georgian period with its lush embroidered fabrics, exquisite flourishes of gilt and marble and precious imports, I inevitably think of the stench.  It’s not a pleasant topic and one we–thank ye gods to modernity–can avoid when romantizing the past, but let’s face it, London was a sty.  Even before the industrial age, the Thames was a gurgling pot of indelicacy, the streets teeming with what we shall call the ever present eau de malodorous monkey.   In short, not good.

Mary Denton by George Gower – 1573

Pomander and Chain – 1526-1575

While men might have straightened their shoulders and suffered through the miasma (though they, too, had stench-ridding weapons), ladies and their sensitive sniffers required relief. They found it in the form of pomanders which first came to the rescue in the 14th century.  Carried over from Arabia, these scented objects take the name from the French “pomme d’ambre“, referring to the pomme or apple shape of the container, and ambergris, the waxy resin substance used as the recipe’s base from which perfumes are then added. 

Pomanders became popular in plague years when physicians theorized disease was trasmitted through befouled air.  Alas, woefully untrue, as physicians would later discover, but pomanders still had plenty of practical uses.  Worn around the neck or the waist for immediate access, their form was as varied as their bearer.  Aristocrats carried perforated miniature globes made of fine metals and decorated with precious stones and/or intricate designs.  These globes were the predecessors of the vinaigrette, used around the early 1700s throughout the mid 19th century.  Similar to the popular orange and clove pomanders of today, the  lower classes might fashion a ball of aromatic gum pounded with rose water and blended with wax.  Occassionally the recipe included apple pulp.  Sometimes a lanced bag filled with aromatics such as herbs and dried flowers would also be used.

Pomander – a very literal interpretation – late 16th -17th centuries

Although pragmatic, as stench has a way of emanating without proper sanitation, the vinaigrette box was first and foremost an object of pretension.  Used almost exclusively by women by the 1820s, every female aspiring to the gentility wore one at her waist or stashed one in her reticule.  They were mostly made of silver, sometimes gold, and were necessary accoutrements to improve a lady’s sense of comfort and grace.  Their composition was slightly different than the pomander, having a hinged lid on the box and beneath that, a grill.  As the vinegar was corrosive, the grill was often gilded to prevent deterioration to the silver from ascetic acid. 

During this period only the finest vinagrettes sported grillwork in relief or ornamentation (the Victorians preferred their boxes to appear much like jewelry–examples of these are very pretty).  Most had a simple punched grill.  Novelty shapes did exist, mostly as wallet, satchels, and shells, although they could come in any shape one desired.  Many of the surviving Georgian vinaigrettes bear the Birmingham stamp as 90% of English made vinaigrettes were manufactured there.

The basic recipe for the substance within the vinaigrette was exactly as we define vinaigrette today: vinegar with herbs and spices.  The liquid was then added to the sponge that sat beneath the grill.  Vinegar emits a strong odor, albeit not as splendiforous as violets or roses, but as anyone who has visited the circus and battled dung with a scented wrist can attest, shit covered in perfume is still shit. Vinegar, at least, wages the battle admirably.


Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress Plate 3

The night after and oh, how many night afters there have been!  How many nights, must Moll ask herself, of pilfering and faking it?  How many nights of having the world by the nether regions, only to have it pool like refuse around her feet?

The bed curtains are falling down.  The bored boys, her generous nabobs and cits and aristos, have scented the first whiff of disease and fled.  Her faithful domestic, a maid in worse condition than she, remains steadfastly by her side, but serves as a reminder that the-day-soon-comes.  This is the future Moll, her nose wasted to a snub, her skin mottling with spots and decay.  There is no hope now for that sparkling future as a high courtesan, only indigence and pluck to while away the time.  Moll’s fingers, however, are still quick enough to work their way into a pocket to fish out the possession every whore desires: a silver or gold pocket watch.

Remember Mother Needham, the bawd, and the precious watch that swung near her waist?  Moll’s got this area of her income covered, probably by the pile, sold by the kilogram.  But the curious thing is Moll’s holding her piece in a speculative manner as it sways like a pendulum.  Time’s a ticking and never with more poignancy than now.

So what’s Moll been up to since we last saw her? 

Hacking about London with her best instrument (sorry!), she’s landed in Drury Lane.  Inevitable, indeed.  No longer snug in the throes of her wealthy lover, Moll is scraping to survive under cover of cloak and night.  Where once silver and polish abounded, a mere single candlestick is stuck in an empty wine bottle.  Earthenware has replaced china; a silver kettle turns to tin; and hauteur confronts the real likelihood of a downward tumble.  Hope is not entirely lost, however, as the miniature portrait of the Virgin Mary peers from beneath the broken window, but one gets the sense of Hogarth mocking religion and its inadequacies in this modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.  A rather large sense.

In a portrait at the upper left of the print we (barely) see Abraham offer his son, Issac, in sacrifice.  A valiant angel interrupts Abraham, but fate is not so kind to dear Moll.  Beneath the window are two other portraits, one of Dr. Sacheverell of the Perils of the False Brethren in Church and State fame, the other of Macheath, the highwayman from the Beggar’s Opera.  These are suggestive choices by Hogarth of which I will only skim here but take these few lines from Act 2 of the Opera as spoken by Polly, Macheath’s betrothed and coincidentally, the daughter of a very disappointed thieftaker who hunts Macheath:

If I allow Captain Macheath some trifling Liberties, I have this Watch and other visible Marks of his Favour to show for.”

Virgins are like the fair Flower in its Lustre … when once pluck’d, ‘tis no longer alluring,/To CoventGarden ‘tis sent, (as yet sweet,)/There fades, and shrinks, and grows past all enduring,/Rots, stinks, and dies, and is trod under feet.”

Speculation also lies above the canopy bed where James Dalton’s wig box rests.  In 1728, Dalton, a highwayman and all around bad guy, was sentenced to death after a particularly violent robbery.  By contrast, the constables, who are just entering the room, are supposed to be the good guys—a relative term, we’re learning.  Leading the way is Sir John Gonson, brothel buster extraordinaire.  It might be just me but for a man who’s sought out all sorts of sordid as THE LAW, what is the scourge of Drury Lane doing with his fingertip raised to his lips?  Pausing tenderheartedly over the scene of yet another fallen woman?  Disagreeably or agreeably titillated by Moll flashing her wares?

Well, he’s going to arrest her anyway so who really cares, but isn’t there something like “let he who is without sin cast the first stone?” The stone, of course, being THE LAW in this case, but fair punishment wasn’t exactly up to snuff like it is today.  Hogarth doesn’t put much faith in two of the largest institutions of the day.  Besides repudiating representatives of justice, religion was a topic of special mockery to him.  Along with the distracted clergyman from plate 1, we again see the removal of any spiritual guidance through the misused pastoral letter on the table in front of Moll and the maid.  Pastoral letters written to parishioners were often allocated as waste paper.  For Moll, it’s holding a slab of butter, a breakfast wrapper being its best use.

Everything else in the print, from the witches hat/twigs (S&M?) to the stretching kitty, you are going to have to extrapolate on in your own time—which you’ve already charitably given to me by now!  If you haven’t had enough of Moll’s Progress yet, the prologue in The Secret History of Georgian England (aka London’s Sinful Secret) nicely dissects the plates.  I will also post on plates 4-6 sooner than later since I’ve dawdled mightily between posting plates 2 and 3.  For an older resource with slightly different interpretations of the plates, see pages 61-79 in the Works of William Hogarth.


Missed the previous posts?

Horace Walpole’s Correspondence Digitized

For all of you interested in Horace Walpole and his astute commentary concerning the 18th century, Yale has recently digitized his letters.  The site is super easy to naviage by date, illustration, appendices, etc.  There’s also a searchable list of correspondents, including Fanny Burney and Hannah More and many more.  I’ll be putting the link in my permanent research links for future reference.

Antoinette Tulips

I have a thing with gardening, an obsession really.  I would not quite call it Tulip Mania, but it’s bad, and now I have one more obsession to boot.  The Antoinette tulip is multiflowering, which essentially means its hues change over the bloom period, and it is gorgeous.  Antoinette would have been a fan simply for the tulip’s whimsical nature.  It’s Easter yellow and green . . . no, wait, raspberry pink.  No, salmony orange.  Oh, dear.

As a bouquet tulip, Antoinette is also abundant, producing 4-6 flowers per bulb.  The name really is perfect and although spring seems an awfully long way off, any Antoinette fan would be remiss to not have some of these in her garden.