|William Hogarth Gin Lane 1751|
The London that Burke encountered was by far the largest city in the British Isles. Its population of more than 600,000 people in 1750 was roughly one-tenth of England as a whole, and ten times that of the next-largest city, Bristol. It was a place of squalor and stench, with huge overcrowding and only the most rudimentary sanitation. Pigs and fowl often lived in urban cellars. Diseases such as smallpox, typhoid fever and dysentery were rampant, with periodic outbursts of influenza. The results were death and deformity, which hit the urban poor the hardest, but left no family untouched. Barely one child in three survived childhood.
By way of antidote, people turned to gambling, cockfighting and the like, and above all to drinking gin. The latter, mixed with fruit cordials, was embraced on such an epic scale that the average annual consumption across the whole of England in 1743 was well over two gallons a head. When Burke arrived in London memories were still fresh of the notorious Judith Defour and, thanks to William Hogarth's print Gin Lane, would remain so. It was she who in 1734 had strangled her own two-year-old daughter and sold the new petticoat the girl had been given at the parish workhouse in order to pay for gin. Five acts of Parliament were required to bring the craze under control.
There was not established police force, and though a widely admired new system of street lighting had been introduced two decades earlier, it was only partially effective. It is not surprising, then, that crime and petty disorder were widespread, arson and looting not unusual. Riots were sometimes seen as a means for an urban underclass to even the score, and could offer rich pickings to people in desperate poverty. Violence lay everywhere below the social surface.
-Jesse Norman, Edmund Burke: The First Conservative
Art History majors will undoubtedly know that Hogarth also produced a print, Beer Street, showing the happiness and contentment associated with drinking beer, unlike that nasty gin. Here 'tis:
|William Hogarth Beer Street 1751|