William Hogarth, artist, social commentator, and eighteenth-century source extraordinaire, was born 315 years ago today on 10th November 1697. He's looking good for 315. While the richness of detail in his prints might require high levels of contextual knowledge in his audience, they are nonetheless enjoyable on more superficial levels and, of course, it is that very level of detail which makes him so invaluable for students of the eighteenth century. One detail, the lunatic drawing a diagram of longitude on the wall of Bedlam, in the final plate of A Rake's Progress is providing me, I hope, with a whole PhD. In his prints, Hogarth has given us many suggestions of how we might celebrate his anniversary. We might drink tea out of tiny jewel-like Sèvres teacups, revelling in the wealth that makes us able to buy this exotic and expensive beverage, like the couple in Taste in High Life. We might quaff beer out of tankards, whilst balancing baskets of fish on our heads and surveying a scene of middle class productivity and urban construction, as the street sellers do in Beer Street. Should we be in a more lascivious mood, we might follow Tom Rakewell's example and frequent the Rose Tavern to watch the infamous posture woman spin on her silver plate in A Rake's Progress. Those of us in higher stations of life, might aspire to be more like Francis Goodchild and host a grand feast, as he does on becoming Lord Mayor of London in Industry and Idleness. Or, those of us who like the odd gin and tonic, might choose to sit on a disintegrating step in Gin Lane and almost literally throw our baby out with the bath water.
I, being a more classy sort of lady, may well purchase a bottle of 'Mother's Ruin', an excellent red wine produced in Nuriootpa, Australia, and while savouring it, I shall contemplate the label and muse on the enduring legacy of the 'ingenious Mr. Hogarth.'