The Harlot's Progress by William Hogarth (1732)
The sneering Chartres stands to view the prey
Of rural innocence decoyed away
The protagonist, Moll Hackabout, has arrived in London's Cheapside. Moll carries scissors and a pincushion hanging on her arm, suggesting that she sought employment as a seamstress. Instead, she is being inspected by the pox-ridden Elizabeth Needham, a notorious procuress and brothel-keeper, who wants to secure Moll for prostitution. The notorious rake Colonel Francis Charteris and his pimp, John Gourlay, look on, also interested in Moll. The two stand in front of a decaying building, symbolic of their moral bankruptcy. Charteris fondles himself in expectation.
Londoners ignore the scene, and even a mounted clergyman ignores her predicament, just as he ignores the fact of his horse knocking over a pile of pans.
Moll appears to have been deceived by the possibility of legitimate employment. A goose in Moll's luggage is addressed to "My lofing cosen in Tems Stret in London": suggesting that she has been misled; this "cousin" might have been a recruiter or a paid-off dupe of the bawdy keepers. Moll is dressed in white, in contrast to those around her, illustrating her innocence and naiveté. The dead goose in or near Moll's luggage, similarly white, foreshadows Moll's death as a result of her gullibility.
I find the calling of a bawd, to
be a strange,
A wise and subtle calling, and for none,
But staid, discreet and understanding people.
The various scenes of vicious loves I sing,
Aid me ye Gods, and imp my tender wing,
A harlot's progress briefly to relate,
Her youth, her beauty and her hapless fate;
How youth and age, by turns, her favours share
The clown, the cit, the dull, the debonair,
How fops and beaux her early dupes are made
With the fleet cassock, and the smart cockade
And how she showers her gifts abundant down,
On the remotest regions of the town.
And thou, my god of verse, my lays inspire
And warm my breast with thy celestial fire,
This female Proteus in all shapes to trace,
And paint the wiles of that seducing race
But first, her birth and parentage rehearse,
Neither unworthy the sublimest verse,
No titles did her family adorn,
Nor by her house, were shields of armour borne,
No coach, nor gout, her predecessors knew,
Nor gaped for ribbons red, or Garters blue.
The ne'er engaged in philosophic doubts,
Nor once concerned themselves in Church disputes;
With them, all monarchs equal right maintained,
And James and Nassau with like justice reigned.
Scorning the tinsel glory of the Court,
None of her sisters e'er was fortune's sport,
Nor lay a sire of hers, or brother slain
In Naseby's field, or Blenheim's fatal plain.
The clime which gave our noted heroine birth,
Was Yorkshire, once renowned throughout the earth,
For horses and for arms. A cottage raw,
With walls of mud, and thatched above with straw,
Had long the seat of her forefathers been,
Who ne'er the pomp of palaces had seen,
But lived at ease, and no vexations knew,
Such as torment the less discerning few,
Who daily at the gates of great ones wait
And barter happiness for empty state.
Thus had they flourished in that lonely place,
From the Plantagenet to Brunswick's race
Unenvied, undisturbed, no pride arose,
Nor ever dared to trouble their repose,
To his glad sons each sire conveyed his trade,
The daughters all their mother's will obeyed,
Happy they lived, as in Saturnian times,
When peace and plenty filled Hesperian climes.
But see the slippery state of human things!
What mighty change wild ambition brings!
One of the daughters, famed for female arts,
Such as the rural neighbourhood imparts,
Surveyed her father's cottage with disdain,
And viewed with scornful eyes each amorous swain.
No joyous scenes her haughty taste could please,
Nor even the squire or parson give her ease,
Strange dreams of grandeur filled her gaudy head,
And now, all hopes of country pleasures fled,
She thus her father greets—"Of sires the best,
Grant (I beseech thee) your daughter's last request,
That I may hence to London be conveyed,
Beneath our ample waggon's canvas shade,
Or mounted on a pack-horse, to explore,
For me, what favours Fortune has in store."
She said. When straight her sire indignant grown,
Viewed her with rage, and cursed the vicious town:
Warned her of mischief, and each artful snare
Laid for the innocent, unguarded fair
But all his words were lost—unmoved she stood
And her request in stronger terms renewed.
Her father yields, at last, o'erwhelmed with fears,
And her kind mother sheds prophetic tears:
Her brother, too, and all her sisters strove
Such steady resolution to remove,
But still in vain. Nor prayers nor tears prevail,
Her doom's decreed, and all entreaties fail.
The waggon now, our northern nymph ascends
And takes a solemn farewell of her friends
But whate'er happened on the tedious way,
As where they baited, where each night they lay,
With other accidents, a hundred more,
Shall all be passed in deepest silence o'er
One thing howe'er I must not quite forget,
A half-starved curate on a scurvy tit
Whose knees were callous, and whose bones were bare,
With a long course of fasting, and of prayer,
Close by the waggon's side jogged up to town,
Of his most reverend sire, to beg a boon
But though true prayer and fasting may engage
Heaven on thy side, in this degenerate age
Yet Church preferments chiefly are bestowed
On the rich drones, the lazy and the proud.
Then pray and fast, and want your patron's will,
Return you must, and act the curate still.
The town, from Highgate, now our heroine views
And her short journey to the Bell pursues,
Where, in the yard, ere she approached the rooms,
Up straight, a venerable matron comes,
Of size unwieldy, with a waddling pace,
Frosted her locks, and patched and primed her face,
Her front deep furrowed, and her eyes on flame,
Like cats by night, and BENTLEY was her name.
This load of lust, this lump of deadly sin,
First chucks the harmless maid beneath her chin,
Then like another Shipton, soon displays,
What shall befall her in the later days.
"Fret not, my fair," said she, "though now
From the bleak regions of the barren North
Nor think, that (parents and relations left)
You're here of kindred or of friends bereft
New friends, new kindred, you in us shall see,
And knights and Lords shall your relations be.
Of all you goods we'll take a special care,
Your trunks, your boxes and your country ware.
Your loafing cozen shall her goose receive
And you, with us, in state and splendour live.
That plain straw hat, and gown of homespun grey,
Shall soon be changed for garments rich and gay,
One these fair fingers, used the threads to twine,
Rubies shall glow, and costly brilliants shine.
Yours shall be all, that youth or beauty craves,
While beaux by thousands owe themselves your slaves."
Thus spoke the fiend infernal, and betrayed
By her deluding tongue, the harmless maid
Who ne'er suspecting fraud, to ruin run,
Swallowed the specious bait, and was undone.
Behind the beldam's back FRANCISCO* plied,
With his known pander, and the quarry eyed,
Monsters! Who scarce of men deserve the name
Strangers alike to honesty and shame.
A noted pair, the master and the man,
Who use all arts the virtuous to trepan.
This, a sly satyr, swelled with lawless rage,
And lewd in spite of impotence and age,
And that, a servile wretch, whose study lies
To spring the game, and bear his lord the prize
But stay, my Muse, nor now the theme prolong,
The sequel well deserves thy future song.
* Colonel Charteris, with his trusty man John Gourlay.