From contemplating the health, happiness, and mirth, flowing from a moderate use of a wholesome and natural beverage, we turn to this nauseous contrast, which displays human nature in its most degraded and disgusting state.
The Retailer of Gin and Ballads, who sits upon the steps with a bottle in one hand and a glass in the other, is horribly fine. This wretched being was painted from Nature. His cry was, "Buy my Ballads, and I’ll give you a Glass of Gin for nothing." Having bartered away his waistcoat, shirt, and stockings, and drunk until he is in a state of total insensibility; pale, wan, and emaciated, he is a perfect skeleton.
A few steps higher is a debased Female, taking snuff. Thoroughly intoxicated, and negligent of the Infant at her breast, it falls over the rail into an area, and dies, an innocent victim to the baneful vice of its depraved Parent.
Another of the fair sex has drunk herself to sleep. As an emblem of her disposition being slothful, a snail is crawling from the wall to her arm. Close to her we discover one of the Lords of the Creation gnawing a bare bone, which a Bull-dog, equally ravenous, endeavours to snatch from his mouth. A working Carpenter is depositing his coat and saw with a Pawnbroker; a tattered Female offers her culinary utensils at the same shrine; and among them we dis- cover a tea-kettle, pawned to procure money to purchase gin.
An old Woman, having drunk till she is unable to walk, is put into a wheel-barrow, and in that situation, a Lad solaces her with another glass. With the same destructive compound a Mother in the corner drenches her Child.
Near her are two Charity-girls of St. Giles's, pledging each other in the same corroding compound.
The scene is completed by a quarrel between two drunken Mendicants, both of whom appear in the character of Cripples. While one of them uses his crutch as a quarter-staff, the other, with great good-will, aims a stool, on which he usually sat, at the head of his adversary. This, with a crowd waiting for their drams at a Distiller's door, completes the catalogue of the Living. Of the Dead, there are two, besides a Child whom a drunken Madman has impaled upon a spit. One, a Barber, who, having probably swallowed Gin until he has lost his reason, has suspended himself by a rope in his own ruinous garret. The other, a beautiful Woman, whom, by direction of the Parish Beadle, two men are depositing in a shell. From her emaciated appearance, we may infer that she also fell a martyr to this poisonous liquid. On the side of her coffin is a Child lamenting the loss of its Parent.
The large pewter measure hung over a cellar, on which is engraved Gin Royal, was once a common sign. The inscription on this Cave of Despair, "Drunk for a Penny, Dead Drunk for Two-pence, Clean Straw for Nothing," is worth observation, as it exhibits the state of our Metropolis at that period. The scene is laid in a place which was, a few years since, properly enough called The Ruins of St. Giles; and the church in view is St. George's, Bloomsbury. Except the Pawnbroker's, Distiller's, and Undertaker's, the Houses are literally Ruins! These Door-keepers to Disease and Death are in a flourishing state; two of them have names descriptive of their professions—Gripe and Killman.
A Print entitled "The Gin Drinkers," which bears strong marks of being one of Hogarth's early productions, may perhaps have been the first thought on which this Print was constructed; but it is generally supposed that he received the first idea of both these Prints from a pair by Peter Breughel; in one of which, La Grosse, are a number of well-fed personages; in the other, which is called La maigre Cuisine, the characters are meagre; and a Mother and Child, seated on a straw mat, very much resemble the wretched Female we see upon the steps in "Gin Lane."
Under each of these Prints are twelve appropriate lines, by the Rev. James Townley; and in the Advertisement announcing them Hogarth says, "As the subjects of these Prints are calculated to reform some reigning vices peculiar to the lower class of people, in hopes to render them of more extensive use, the Author has published them in the cheapest manner possible."