The early 1700s was the time of the gin craze. Far from its modern image of G&Ts for the gin and Jag set, this was the cheap gin of Mother’s Ruin, with the slogan “Drunk for a Penny, Dead Drunk for Twopence, Straw for Nothing.” Gin was the drink of the poor who had nothing else. As Paulson notes, “For the poor man of this period, as Francis Place wrote, ‘none but the animal sensations are left; to these his enjoyments are limited, and even these are frequently reduced to two—namely sexual intercourse and drinking…Of the two…drunkenness is by far the most desired’ since it provides a longer period of escape and costs only a penny” [1991, III 25]. The sad fact is that Francis Place was writing a century later.
The gin craze got worse during the 1740s and the increased consumption of gin was seen (by the propertied classes in London) as contributing to crime. The magistrate (and author) Henry Fielding, who confronted poor criminals on a daily basis, was perturbed. He wrote a tract, An Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers, published in January 1751. To increase the impact of his Enquiry, he turned to his friend William Hogarth, presumably before the Enquiry was published, and Hogarth in turn produced his famous pendant pair of prints, Beer Street and Gin Lane.
The anti-gin campaign led to the passing of the Gin Act later in 1751 and gin consumption declined dramatically over the next decade.
Hogarth’s prints have been much-analyzed and indeed are very rewarding of analysis, but I do not want to talk about their content here. Instead, we note Hogarth’s advertisement for the prints, which appeared in the London Evening Post of February 14–16 1751.
This Day are publish’d, Price 1 s. each.
Two large Prints, design’d and etch’d by Mr. Hogarth called
BEER-STREET and GIN-LANE
A Number will be printed in a better Manner for the Curious, at 1s. 6d. each.
And on Thursday following will be publish’d four Prints on the Subject of Cruelty, Price and Size the same.
N.B. As the Subjects of these Prints are calculated to reform some reigning Vices peculiar to the lower Class of People, in hopes to render them of more extensive use, the Author has published them in the cheapest Manner possible.
To be had at the Golden Head in Leicester-Fields, Where may be had all his other Works.
While a price of one shilling kept the prints out of the hands of “the lower Class of People”, it did get them into taverns and coffee-houses, where they achieved wide display.
These prints also provide the first clear evidence of a connection between Hogarth and Kirby, for already by 9 March, Kirby was advertising Hogarth’s prints in the Ipswich Journal.
This Day are Publish’d, (Price 1s. each) Two large PRINTS, design’d and etch’d by Mr. Hogarth, call’d BEER-STREET and GIN-LANE. A Number will be printed in a better Manner for the Curious, at 1s. 6d. each. Also Four Prints on the Subject of Cruelty, Price and Size the same.
N.B. As the Subjects of these Prints are calculated to reform some reigning Vices peculiar to the lower Class of People, in hopes to render them of more extensive Use, the Author has published them in the cheapest Manner possible.
To be had of Joshua Kirby in Ipswich, and of Mr. Hogarth at the Golden Head in Leicester-Fields; where may be had, all his other Works.
I don’t know that Hogarth had any other agents selling these prints.
The Perils of Drink