The Harlot's Progress, I

The Harlot's Progress, I. William Hogarth (1697-1764). 1734. Engraved by F. F. Walke. Facing p. 106. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [This image may be used without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose.]

Note to Plate I. — The general aim of historical painters, says Mr. Ireland, has been to emblazon some signal exploit of an exalted and distinguished character. To go through a series of actions, and conduct their hero from the cradle to the grave — to give a history upon canvas, and tell a story with the pencil, few of them attempted. Mr. Hogarth saw, with the intuitive eye of genius, that one path to the Temple of Fame was yet untrodden: he took Nature for his guide, and gained the summit. . . . .

This series of prints gives the history of a prostitute. The story commences with her arrival in London, where, initiated in the school of profligacy, she experiences the miseries consequent to her situation, and dies in the morning of life. Her variety of wretchedness forms such a picture of the way in which vice rewards her votaries, as ought to warn the young and inexperienced from entering this path of infamy.

The first scene of this domestic tragedy is laid at the Bell Inn, in Wood Street, and the heroine may possibly be daughter to the poor old clergyman who is reading the direction of a letter close to the York waggon, from which vehicle she has just alighted. In attire — neat, plain, unadorned; in demeanour — artless, modest, diffident; in the bloom of youth, and more distinguished by native innocence than elegant symmetry; her conscious blush, and downcast eyes, attract the attention of a female fiend, who panders to the vices of the opulent and libidinous. Coming out of the door of the inn, we discover two men, one of whom is eagerly gloating on the devoted victim. This is a portrait, and said to be a strong resemblance of Colonel Francis Chartres.

The old procuress, immediately after the girl's alighting from the waggon, addresses her with the familiarity of a friend, rather than the reserve of one who is to be her mistress. [Trusler & Roberts, 107]

The commentators point out that the parent is negligent in his supervision of his innocent daughter, for so caught up is he in contemplating the letter addressed to the bishop of the diocese (suggestive of his seeking preferment in the Church of England) that he fails to see his daughter's being petted by a madam, or his gaunt horse's knocking over the stack of flowerpots (left). The middle-class respectability of the young woman and her being "ensnared" by a London madame are consistent with the tradition that Dickens utilizes in his presentation of Martha Endell and Em'ly Peggotty in David Copperfield (1849-50).


Complete works of William Hogarth ; in a series of one hundred and fifty superb engravings on steel, from the original pictures / with an introductory essay by James Hannay, and descriptive letterpress, by the Rev. J. Trusler and E.F. Roberts. London and New York: London Printing and Publishing Co., c.1870.

Paulson, Ronald. Hogarth: His Life, Art and Times, 2 vols. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1971.

Last modified 8 March 2010