Two of these Plates were originally published from Engravings on wood, on a large scale, under the immediate inspection of Hogarth, who wished to diffuse the salutary example they contain, as far as possible, by putting them within the reach of the meanest purchaser; but, finding this mode of executing his design was expensive beyond expectation, he proceeded no further in it, and was content to engrave them in his own coarse, but spirited manner; and they are illustrated by some appropriate verses from the pen of Mr. Townley.
The motive by which Hogarth was induced to make these designs he thus describes: "The leading points in these, as well as the two preceding Prints, were made as obvious as possible, in the hope that their tendency might be seen by men of the lowest rank. Neither minute accuracy of design, nor fine engraving, were deemed necessary; as the latter would render them too expensive for the persons to whom they were intended to be useful. And the fact is, that the passions may be more forcibly expressed by a strong bold stroke, than by the most delicate engraving. To expressing them as I felt them, I have paid the utmost attention; and, as they were addressed to hard hearts, have rather preferred leaving them hard, and giving the effect by a quick touch, to rendering them languid and feeble by fine strokes and soft engraving, which require more care and practice than can often be attained, except by a man of a very quiet turn of mind. Mason, who gave two strokes to every particular hair that he engraved, merited great admiration; but at such admiration I never aspired, neither was I capable of obtaining it if I had. The Prints were engraved with the hope of in some degree correcting that barbarous treatment of animals, the very sight of which renders the streets of our Metropolis so distressing to every feeling' mind. If they have had this effect, and checked the progress of Cruelty, I am more proud of being their Author, than I should be of having painted Raphael's Cartoons."
First Stage of Cruelty
Plate I. Tom Nero, the Hero of this tragic tale, we learn, by a badge upon his arm, to be a boy of St. Giles's Charity School. The horrible business in which he is engaged was, it is hoped, never realized. The thought is taken from Callot's "Temptation of St. Anthony."
A Youth of superior rank, shocked at such cruelty, offers his tart, to redeem the dog from torture. This Hogarth intended for the Portrait of Prince George, our late most gracious Sovereign, who was then about thirteen years of age.
A lad chalking on a wall the suspended figure inscribed Tom Nero prepares us for the future fate of this young Tyrant, and shews by anticipation the reward of Cruelty.
Throwing at cocks might possibly have its origin in what some of our sagacious Politicians call a natural enmity to France, which is thus humanely exercised against the allegorical symbol of that Nation.
A Boy tying a bone to the tail of his dog, while the kind-hearted animal licks his hand, must have a most diabolical disposition. Two little Imps are burning out the eyes of a bird with a knitting needle. A group of embryotic Domitians, who have tied two cats to the extremities of a rope, and hung it over a lamp-iron to see how delightfully they will tear each other, are marked with grim delight. The Link-boy is a Liliputian Fiend. The Fellow encouraging a dog to worry a cat, and two animals of the same species thrown out of a garret window, with bladders fastened to them, complete this mortifying prospect of youthful depravity.
Second Stage of Cruelty
Plate II. Tom Nero is now a Hackney Coachman, dis- playing his disposition in his conduct to a horse. Worn out by ill usage, and exhausted by fatigue, the poor animal has fallen down, overset the carriage, and broken his leg. The scene is laid at Thavies Inn Gate (which at that time was the longest shilling-fare from Westminster Hall). Four Lawyers, who have joined to pay three-pence each for a ride, are exhibited creeping out of the carriage. These ludicrous periwig-pated personages were probably intended as Portraits, though their identity is not now discoverable.
A man taking the number of the coach is marked with traits of benevolence, which separate him from the savage ferocity of Nero, or the terror of the affrighted Lawyers.
As a farther exemplification of extreme barbarity, a Drover is beating an expiring Lamb with a large club.
The wheels of a Dray pass over an unfortunate Boy, while the Drayman, regardless of consequences, sleeps on the shafts.
In the back-ground is a poor over-laden Ass. The Master, presuming on the strength of this patient and ill-treated animal, has mounted upon his back, and taken a loaded Porter behind him. An over-driven Ox, followed by a crowd of heroic spirits, has tossed a boy. Two placards posted on the wall, advertise Cock-fighting and Broughton's Amphitheatre, as farther specimens of National Civilization.
Cruelty in Perfection
Plate III. The Hero of these Prints began by torturing a helpless dog; he then beat out the eye of an unoffending horse; and now, under the influence of that malignant spirit, which by indulgence is become natural, he commits murder—most foul and aggravated murder! —for the poor deluded Girl is pregnant by the Wretch who deprives her of life. He tempts her to quit a happy situation, to plunder an indulgent mistress, and meet him with the produce of her robbery. Blinded by affection, she keeps the fatal appointment, and comes loaded with plate. The remorseless villain, having previously determined to destroy her, and by that means cancel his promise of marriage, free himself from an expected incumbrance, and silence one whom compunction might at a future day induce to confess the crime, and lead to his detection, puts her to death! This atrocious act must have been perpetrated with most savage barbarity; for the head is nearly severed, and the wrist cut almost through. Her cries are heard by the servants of a neighbouring house, who run to her assistance.—'Tis too late—the horrid deed is done. But the Murderer, appalled by conscious guilt, and rendered motionless by terror, cannot fly. He is seized without resistance, and consigned to that punishment which so aggravated a violation of the Laws of Nature and his Country demand.
The glimpses of the Moon, the screech-owl, and the bat hovering in the air, the mangled corpse, and above all the Murderer's guilty countenance, give terrific horror to the scene, which has been thought to have been intended for Pancras; but Mr. John Ireland supposed it to be rather designed for St. Mary-le-bone, and that the building in the back-ground was the old public-house, called The Jew's harp.
By the pistol in his pocket, and watches on the ground, we have reason to infer that this callous Wretch has been committing other depredations in the earlier part of the evening.
The time is what has been emphatically called "the witching hour!" The iron tongue of midnight has told One!
The letter in his pocket gives a history of the transaction. It appears to be dictated by warm affection, and written, previous to her elopement, by the woman just murdered.
"Dear Tommy. My Mistress has been the best of women to me, and my conscience flies in my face as often as I think of wronging her: yet I am resolved to venture body and soul, to do as you would have me: so do not fail to meet me, as you have said you would; for I shall bring along with me all the things I can lay my hands on. So no more at present, but I remain yours till death. Anne Gill."
This is the simple effusion of a too credulous heart. Whatever would lessen the solemnity of the scene is carefully avoided. Neither bad spelling, nor any other ridiculous circumstances that might create laughter, are introduced.
The Reward of Cruelty
Plate IV. The diabolical progress of Cruelty is now ended by the sword of Justice. From the place of execution, the Murderer is brought to Surgeons' Hall, and represented under the knife of a Dissector. This venerable person, as well as his Coadjutor, who scoops out the Criminal's eye, and a young Student scarifying the leg, seem to have just as much feeling as the subject now under their inspection. Hogarth was most peculiarly accurate in those little markings which identify. The gunpowder initials T. N. on the arm, denote this to be the body of Thomas Nero. The face being impressed with horror has been objected to. It must be acknowledged, that it is rather "o'erstepping the modesty of Nature;" but Hogarth so rarely deviates from her laws, that a little poetical licence may be forgiven, where it produces humour, or heightens character. The skeletons on each of th e Prints are inscribed James Field (an eminent Pugilist) and Maclean (a notorious Robber). Both of these Worthies died by a rope. They are pointing to the Physician's crest, which is carved on the upper part of the President's chair; viz. a hand feeling a pulse—taking a guinea would have been more appropriate to the practice. The heads of these two Heroes of the halter are so turned as to seem ridiculing the President. Every countenance in this grizly band is marked with that Medical importance which dignifies the Professsors. A fellow depositing the intestines in a pail, and a dog licking the Murderer's heart, are disgusting objects. The vessel where the skulls and bones bubble-bubble gives some idea of the infernal cauldron of Hecate.