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A Rake’s Progress III

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A Rake's Progress (plate 3) 1735 by William Hogarth 1697-1764

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 have been publishing and commenting on the 8 engravings in sequence, one each month, and will continue to do so we finally arrive at Bethlem where the last act of the drama unfolds.

The third engraving in the series shows Tom patronising the Rose Tavern in Covent Garden - a brothel - after a day spent in diversion and dissipation.

“The Chocolate House - White’s - the Cockpit - a rehearsal - a match at tennis - a visit to Figg’s temple of the ‘Fancy’, Oxford Road - a late dinner, and plenty of wine, at Pontack’s - and the day is spent; but the night is coming on; and riot and disorder stalk abroad - the night is coming on - but so also is the morning!”1

Hogarth shows Tom Rakewell being “robbed of his watch, by the girl whose hand is in his bosom; and, with that adroitness peculiar to an old practitioner, she conveys her acquisition to an accomplice, who stands behind the chair. Two of the ladies are quarrelling; and one of them delicately spouts wine in the face of her opponent, who is preparing to revenge the affront with a knife, which, in the posture of threatened defiance, she grasps in her hand. A third, enraged at being neglected, holds a lighted candle to a map of the globe, determined to set the world on fire, though she perish in the conflagration! A fourth is undressing.”2

To be continued.