A Note on Hogarth’s Print “Beer Street”

Commentary by L.C. Thompson in 1918

If Science and Art be sisters, a note upon Hogarth’s print, “Beer Street” is not out of place in this Journal. All Hogarth’s prints representing street scones in London arc purely topographical.

However grotesque the figures portrayed, the houses and buildings are faithfully produced. The hand of Time, aided by the efforts of the house demolisher and municipal improvements for street widening, has left few recognisable. In many of his pictures a church spire stands as a chief clue for the diligent. In “Beer Street” fortune has been kind, and the picture is, within limits, the same today as when drawn.

The spire is St. Vedast, Foster Lane, within a quarter of a mile of Brewers’ Hall, Addle Street.

Stand at the north-east corner of St. Paul’s Churchyard, look across the western end of Cheapside, with the statue of Sir Robert Peel in the middle distance. The spire stands above the houses, a clue and a confirmation.

Looking at the print in terms of to-day, Sweeting’s fish shop is just out of the picture on the left, and Short’s wine house just out of the picture on the right. Since the drawing was made, the first General Post Office has been built, served its purpose, and demolished. A few more houses removed to increase its original ground space, and our self-imposed task would have been proportionately the more difficult.

Hogarth’s original print, i.e., the first state, has the caricature of the Frenchman held up by the jolly fat party on the left. The lines below the print have a slighting reference to France.

Beer, bappy Produce of our Isle
Can sinewy Strength impart
And wearied with Fatigue and Toil
Can cheer each manly Heart

Labor and Art upheld by Thee
Succesfully advance
We quaff Thy balmy Juice with Glee
An Water leave to France

Genius of Health, thy grateful Taste
Rivals the Cup of Jove,
And warms each English generous Breast
With Liberty and Love.

Possibly due to some temporary “entente” he removed the Frenchman, and substituted in the second state of the plate a leg of mutton and an amorous porter with his lady love. The lines he left unchanged.

The Act of Parliament, 1751, has interest as being Hogarth’s own pet particular Act of Parliament. Troubled all his life by pirated editions of his works, this was his initial foundry of copyright, but so badly was it drafted that it proved of little value to him and a fresh source of income to the Law.

In the “Industrious and Idle Apprentice” series we find Hogarth using the same corner of London, but drawn from the Aldersgate Street side; Frank Fairchild—who to the writer is made to appear as an insufferable prig—turns down Cheapside in state as Lord Mayor. To the incredulous, attention is drawn to the east end of St. Paul’s—note another church as clue—on the right-hand of the picture.

In “Beer Street” and “Gin Lane” the artist has summarised the whole question of Drink, its grateful use, and its terrible abuse and prostitution.

As a direct result of the outbreak of gin drinking at this time (1750—1760), the Government put on gin a “swingeing” duty, and the sale of beer was encouraged as a public policy by the granting of licenses for its sale to all and sundry.

Here lies the true origin of all the “redundant” licenses that modern “Licensing Bills” are designed to abolish.

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