The Four Stages of Cruelty

Method Copper engraving and etching
Artist William Hogarth
Published Design'd by W. Hogarth. Published according to Act of Parliament Feb. 1. 1751. Price 1s.
Dimensions Images 355 x 295 mm, Sheets 380 x 310 mm, Album Sheets 645 x 475 mm
Notes A set of early impressions of Hogarth's Four Stages of Cruelty printed on thin laid paper, another 'moral progress' series in a similar vein to his famous Rake and Harlot, this example examining the progress of Cruelty. The central character, Tom Nero, is a ward of the parish of St. Giles. Left to his own devices, and without proper moral instruction, the plates in the series show in visceral detail the development of cruelty in the young man, beginning with the tormenting and torture of animals in his youth, to hardheartedness as a young man, to murder as an adult, and finally to the aftermath of his execution at Tyburn, where justice will inflict its own cruelties on Nero's corpse. The series was intended to shock and provoke, and for this purpose, Hogarth intended to have the series produced as woodcuts, to reduce production costs in an attempt to acheive wider circulation. Owing to financial restraints, only the last two plates in the series Cruelty in Perfection and the Reward of Cruelty were eventually produced in woodcut. Hogarth himself described the series, particularly the first plate, as being done in as 'strong a manner as the most stony heart were ment to be effected by them.' Animal cruelty was rife in Hogarth's London, and in the eyes of many moralists, was a leading cause of social and moral decay. Tom's surname, Nero, was clearly intended to play upon popular imaginings of the notorious cruelty of the Roman Emperor, and warn society as a whole that the cruel 'games' of boys could have murderous consequences.

First Stage of Cruelty: In a London street, young boys engage in numerous acts of animal torture and cruelty. The central character of the series, Tom Nero, distinguished by a badge reading St. G. (St Giles) prepares to skewer a dog with an arrow, while his fellow hold the dog in place. A 'youth of gentler Heart' desperately tries to save the dog, offering Tom his tart in exchange for the dog's life. Below Tom's group, another boy ties a bone to another dog's tail, while a pair of youths play 'throwing at cocks,' one holding a rooster while the other takes aim with a stick. On the balustrade, two boys blind a pigeon with a wire they have heated in a flaming brand, while a group of boys have tied a pair of cats to a lamp-post by their tails and encourage them to fight. In the distance, a cat is flung out of an upstairs window, a pair of makeshift wings having been tied around its middle. To Tom Nero's left, another boy draws a picture of a gallows on the wall with charcoal, predicting the protagonist's eventual fate by captioning his drawing with Tom's name. A poem in twelve lines captions the image: 'While various Scenes of sportive Woe / The Infant Race employ, / And Tortured Victims bleeding shew / The Tyrant in the Boy. / Behold! a youth of gentler Heart, / To spare the Creature's pain / O take, he cries - take all my Tart, / But Tears and Tart are vain. / Learn from this fair Example - You / Whom savage Sports delight, / How Cruelty disgusts the view / While Pity charms the sight.'
Paulson 187 i/ii, BM Satires 3147

Second Stage of Cruelty: Tom Nero's youth has hardened his heart, and thus he continues his cruel treatment of animals now without thought or conscience. A team of overweight barristers have overloaded a coach in their efforts to save money on the fare. The coach-horse has collapsed under the burden, and the coach has overturned. Tom, at centre, bludgeons the wounded horse with a club. The only 'gentleman' in the plate looks on in horror, writing down Tom's details in a ledger to report him. In the background are more scenes of exploitation and unconscious or ingrained cruelty. A herdsman, having driven his flock too hard to market, has clubbed a sheep that has fallen in her exhaustion. A sleeping merchant, resting against his barrels, fails to notice the small boy that his cart has run down. An overladen donkey is being goaded by a man with a two-pronged fork, and a bull-baiting has drawn a crowd in the distance. Posters on the walls of the street advertise other examples of institutionalised cruelty, including a cock fight and a boxing match between pugilists James Field and George Taylor. A poem in twelve lines captions the image: 'The generous Steed in hoary Age / Subdu'd by Labour lies; / And mourns a cruel Master's rage, / While Nature Strength denies. / The tender Lamb o'er drove and faint, Amidst expiring Throws; / Bleats forth it's innocent complaint / And dies beneath the Blows. / Inhuman Wretch! say whence proceeds / This coward Cruelty? / What Int'rest springs from barb'rous deeds? / What Joy from Misery?'
Paulson 188 i/ii, BM Satires 3153

Cruelty in Perfection: Tom Nero's cruelty has finally reached its apogee in a cold and seemingly premeditated murder. The scene is set in a graveyard, the time on the church-tower's clock is 1am. Tom has been apprehended by an angry mob, standing above the body of a heavily pregnant maidservant. He is bald-headed and wears a highwayman's jacket with a pistol in his coat-pocket. One man, holding up the bloody knife, questions Tom, while another turns out his pockets, revealing a number of stolen fob-watches. An open letter lies on the ground at the dead girl's feet, revealing that out of love for Tom, she has agreed to meet him at the graveyard, having brought her mistress's valuables with her. Her case lies open next to a sack containing silverware, one of her books open to a page reading 'God's Revenge against Murder.' A poem in twelve lines captions the image: 'To lawless Love when once betray'd, / Soon Crime to Crime succeeds: / At length beguil'd to Theft, the Maid / By her Beguiler bleeds. / Yet learn, seducing Man! nor Night, / With all its sable Cloud, / Can screen the guilty Deed from Sight; / Foul Murder cries aloud. / The gaping Wounds, and blood-stain'd Steel, / Now shock his trembling Soul; / But Oh! what Pangs his Breast must feel, / When Death his Knell shall toll.'
Paulson 189 i/ii, BM Satires 3159

The Reward of Cruelty: Tom Nero's murder has been 'rewarded' with hanging at Tyburn, and his cruelty has earned him the punishment of having his body dissected by a College of Surgeons. Only a year after the production of this print, the passing of the 'Murder Act' made dissection an official penalty for those convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Tom's body, the noose still affixed around his neck, is laid out naked on a dissection table. The surgeons, wearing mortar-boards and robes, observe as Tom's left eye is gouged out. Another surgeon, his sleeves rolled up, opens Tom's abdomen with a large knife, having been instructed by the chief surgeon, who demonstrates the incision with a large pointer while still seated on his high-backed chair. Another man assists in the removal of Tom's organs, pulling out his intestine into a large barrel, while a younger man prepares to make an incision at Tom's ankle. In the corner, a large cauldron is boiling bones in preparation for mounting, a fate that has already been bestowed on James Field, the pugilist from Plate 2, whose skeleton has been articulated and displayed in a niche in the background. At the very middle centre, a stray dog eats Tom's heart, poetically ending the cycle that began with Tom's torturing of a dog in Plate 1. A poem in twelve lines captions the image: 'Behold the Villain's dire disgrace! / Not Death itself can end. / He finds no peaceful Burial Place; / His breathless Corpse, no friend. / Torn from the Root, that wicked Tongue, / Which daily swore and curst! / Those Eyeballs, from their Sockets wrung, / That glow'd with lawless Lust! / His Heart, expos'd to prying Eyes, / To Pity has no Claim; / But, dreadful! from his Bones shall rise, / His Monument of Shame.'
Paulson 190 iii/iv, BM Satires 3166

William Hogarth (1697 - 1764) was born in London, the son of an unsuccessful schoolmaster and writer from Westmoreland. After apprenticeship to a goldsmith, he began to produce his own engraved designs in about 1710. He later took up oil painting, starting with small portrait groups called conversation pieces. He went on to create a series of paintings satirising contemporary customs, but based on earlier Italian prints, of which the first was The Harlot's Progress (1731), and perhaps the most famous The Rake's Progress. His engravings were so plagiarised that he lobbied for the Copyright Act of 1735, commonly referred to as 'Hogarth's Act,' as a protection for writers and artists. During the 1730s Hogarth also developed into an original painter of life-sized portraits, and created the first of several history paintings in the grand manner.

Condition: Strong clean impressions on thin laid paper. Trimmed within platemarks, without loss to image or inscription, and laid to thick wove paper album pages. Waterstaining to bottoms of album sheets, not affecting laid sheets.
Framing unmounted
Price £1,800.00
Stock ID 50683