General Child Neurology
Jun. 15, 2023
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Hogarth's engraving, published according to Act of Parliament on February 1, 1751 in support of what would become the "Gin Act," shows a poor London street (the area depicted is St. Giles, London) strewn with hopeless drunkards and lined with gin shops and a flourishing pawnbroker. The inhabitants of Gin Lane are being destroyed by their addiction to the foreign spirit of gin, with the engraving illustrating shocking scenes of child neglect, starvation, madness, drunken brawls, and death.
Hogarth's illustration is filled with satirical humor: the
pawnbroker's shop depicted is "S. Gripe pawnbroker"; the distillery is
"Kilman distillery"; a gin shop sign reads "drunk for a penny, dead
drunk for two pence, clean straw for nothing"; and a drunkard's paper is
headed "the downfall of Mdam. gin." The poem at the bottom reads as
Gin cursed Fiend, with Fury fraught,
Makes human Race a Prey;
It enters by a deadly Draught,
And steals our Life away.
Virtue and Truth, driv'n to Despair,
It's Rage compells to fly,
But cherishes, with hellish Care,
Theft, Murder, Perjury.
Damn'd Cup! that on the Vitals preys,
That liquid Fire contains
Which Madness to the Heart conveys,
And rolls it thro' the Veins.
At that time, there was no quality control whatsoever and gin was frequently adulterated (eg, with turpentine). When it became apparent that copious gin consumption was causing social problems, social reformers and the government made efforts to control the production of the spirit. The Spirit Duties Act (commonly known as the Gin Act of 1736) imposed high taxes on sales of gin, forbade the sale of gin in quantities of less than two gallons, and required an annual payment of £50 for a retail license. These measures had little effect beyond increasing smuggling and driving the distilling trade underground. The act was repealed by the Gin Act of 1743, which set much lower taxes and fees. (Courtesy of the Wellcome Collection, London, England. Public domain.)