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A Rake’s Progress I

Bethlem’s most famous fictional patient is probably Tom Rakewell, the creation of the artist and satirist William Hogarth (1697-1764). A Rake’s Progress, a series of paintings (later published as engravings) depicting scenes from Tom’s life, was Hogarth’s exposé of the cruelty, depravity and hypocrisy which he saw in London society, as well as a morality play in which evil finally comes down on the head of the evildoer. Here on the blog we are publishing and commenting on the 8 engravings in sequence, one each month, until we finally arrive at Bethlem where the last act of the drama unfolds.

The first engraving shows Tom taking possession of the effects of his wealthy but miserly father, who has died without making a will.

Hogarth1 3

“Old Dives, the usurer - who never wore fine linen - is dead, and lying a very unhandsome spectacle on his dingy bed, in a dismal chamber. Silas Moneypenny has departed this life intestate; and Tom, heir to his El Dorado of thousands, is summoned at once to town, to attend his father’s funeral, and to take possession of his heritage.”1

It also shows him heartlessly disowning his young lover Sarah Young, who has followed him to London with her mother to tell him that she is expecting his child.

“In the interim, enters a poor girl (with her mother), whom our hero has seduced, under professions of love and promises of marriage; in hopes of meeting with that kind welcome she had the greatest reason to expect; but he, corrupted with the wealth of which he is now the master, forgets every engagement he once made - finds himself too rich to keep his word; and, as if gold would atone for a breach of honour, is offering money to her mother, as an equivalent for the non-fulfilling of his promise. Not the sight of the ring, given as a pledge of his fidelity; not a view of the many affectionate letters he at one time wrote to her, of which her mother’s lap is full; not the tears, noer even the pregnant condition of the wretched girl, could awaken in him one spark of tenderness; but, hard-hearted and unfeeling, like the generality of wicked men, he suffers her to weep away her woes in silent sorrow, and curse with bitterness her deceitful betrayer.”2

To be continued.