In the space of a few months in 1730 and 1731, the artist William Hogarth created the most immediately popular fictional images the English-speaking world had ever seen. First, he hit upon the idea of a series of six paintings showing the life-cycle of a London prostitute: from her innocent, fresh-faced arrival in town and immediate entrap­ment by a rake and bawd, to her inevitable downfall, disease, and death. Hundreds of people came to his studio to admire the canvases. Then, in 1732, he sold engravings of them to over a thousand sub­scribers. They were an instant sensation. As his colleague George Vertue noted, in the only surviving contemporary account, they ‘had the greatest subscription and public esteem that any prints ever had’. A Harlot’s Progress ‘captivated the minds of most people, persons of all ranks and conditions, from the greatest quality to the meanest’.1

People have been trying ever since to explain exactly why these pictures were so phenomenally, and enduringly, popular. After suc­cessfully repeating the formula in three later series, A Rake’s Progress (1735), Marriage a la Mode (1745), and Industry and Idleness (1747), Hogarth himself came to believe that it was simply down to his genius in having hit upon a new and uniquely attractive kind of art. He had, he boasted, invented a wholly ‘novel mode, viz. painting and engraving

The growth of mass culture

21. William Hogarth, A Harlot’s Progress (1732): Scene 1: The entrapment of a defenceless country maid upon her arrival in London.

modern moral subjects’, something never before done ‘by any other man’, ‘in any country or any age’.2

That is also essentially the view of the world’s foremost authority, Ronald Paulson, whose dazzling scholarship over many decades has been devoted to showing that Hogarth was one of the greatest artists of all time. Professor Paulson’s main method has been to trace increasingly complex connections between Hogarth’s images and the whole of the previous western canon of art, literature, theology, and philosophy, in order to demonstrate the artist’s astonishing erudition and sophistica­tion. A Harlot’s Progress, we are told, is only superficially about the seduction and ruin of a young woman. In fact, it was intended as a scan­dalous parody of the New Testament, and its iconography consciously echoed the religious imagery of Leonardo, Durer, and other old masters – small matter that Hogarth himself never mentioned any of this, and not a single one of his contemporaries seems to have noticed it.3

The growth of mass culture

Scene 2: Her innocence lost, she becomes the kept mistress of a rich Jew, and cheats on him.

To balk at Professor Paulson’s more extreme suggestions is not to deny that Hogarth was an immensely inventive satirist (nor, of course, that we might see things in his art that he himself did not). The con­temporary impact of his work did derive partly from its originality and richness. Yet it also had two other, more basic causes. In the first place it encapsulated themes that, as we saw in previous chapters, were already matters of intense public fascination. The topic of A Harlot’s Progress was far from original. On the contrary, as Horace Walpole pointed out, its success was due to ‘the familiarity of the sub­ject, and the propriety of the execution’.4 It put into an easily readable visual narrative the growing contemporary obsession with female vic­timization, libertine impunity, and the uselessness of punishment, complete with topical references to its most infamous real-life perso­nas: the rapist rake, Colonel Francis Charteris, and his pimp; the infamous brothel-keeper Mrs Needham; the highwayman James

The growth of mass culture

Scene 3: The harlot’s lodgings are raided by supporters of the societies for reformation of manners.

Dalton; Captain Macheath, the hero of The Beggar’s Opera; the zeal­ous magistrate Sir John Gonson; and the prostitute Kate Hackabout, whose name Hogarth adopted for his harlot. Over the following dec­ades, too, the enduring popularity of Hogarth’s images was as much a consequence as a cause of the ever-greater general fixation on narra­tives of seduction and prostitution.5

The other reason the Harlot’s Progress became so wildly popular was that it was endlessly duplicated, quoted, adapted, and referred to by other writers and artists. ‘Every engraver set himself to copy it’, as Walpole noted, ‘and thousands of imitations were dispersed all over the kingdom’. Ironically enough these secondary versions are now much rarer than the originals, and almost completely unknown. Hogarth hated being plagiarized – his annoyance led directly to the Engravers’ Copyright Act of 1735. Critics likewise often disdain these inferior productions and ignore them. At best, the flood of derivative

The growth of mass culture

Scene 4: She and her maid are sent to Bridewell and set at hard labour.

copies is portrayed as illustrative of the original prints’ general im­pact.6

In fact it was the other way round. It was precisely through second – and third-hand copies and allusions that Hogarth’s work achieved its greatest popular impression. Only 1,240 copies of A Harlot’s Pro­gress were printed in 1732. They were available solely by personal subscription, and their high cost (21 shillings per set) put them well beyond the reach of ordinary people. The work’s wide and lasting popularity therefore resulted largely from the indirect ripple effect of countless copies, adaptations, and quotations, which were much more widely distributed and accessible. It was these that made it so gener­ally familiar.

This secondary dissemination took many different forms, even leaving aside innumerable passing references in poems, novels, pam­phlets and newspapers. There were, first of all, the officially authorized texts and copies that Hogarth himself, and later his widow, sanctioned,

The growth of mass culture

Scene 5: Senseless and impoverished, attended by quacks, she lies dying of venereal disease.

in order to bring his work to a wider audience. These ranged from the huge sheets engraved by Giles King in 1732 to the tiny images inserted from 1768 onwards in editions of John Trusler’s Hogarth Moralized (see illustrations 22 and 23). Then there was a vast number of unauthorized plagiaries, of every shape and size, issued and reissued throughout the century and beyond. There were large sets, ‘the same size as Mr Hogarth’s’ but at a fraction of his price, engraved or in mez­zotint, with or without verses, in black or in coloured ink. For still less money, one could buy various medium-sized plagiaries. Cheapest and most popular of all were small-format copies, available in a dazzling variety: with or without verses printed below, in black and white, in green or pink, or even in full colour. There were even plagiaries, large and small, of Giles King’s own copies.7

It is unlikely that the purchasers of these images regarded them as inferior to the originals – indeed, the plagiaries usually provided add-

The growth of mass culture

Scene 6: Her coffin, surrounded by other whores and their acolytes.

itional value through a verse explication below each scene. Anyone with a shilling or two could equally buy one of the many pamphlet versions of the story, which usually came with their own accompany­ing sets of small prints. In addition, there were pantomimes, operas, comedies, and other dramatic stagings of the Harlot’s Progress, which remained popular long after 1732. The series was also reproduced, in whole or in part, in other visual media – in paintings and embroidery; on ladies’ fans; on cups, saucers, and other kinds of china and pewter objects (see plate 11).8 Finally, we can trace its popular impact through many later visual allusions. Amongst full-blown reworkings and par­odies in the 1730s were R[o]b[i]n’s Progress and Vanella’s Progress, respectively satirizing the Prime Minister, Robert Walpole, and Anne Vane, the mistress of the Prince of Wales. Half a century later, they included The Modern Harlot’s Progress, or The Adventures of Harriet Heedless (1780), and George Morland’s Laetitia: or Seduction (1786), which both updated the tale and, in keeping with later eighteenth-

The growth of mass culture

22. Giles King’s huge sheets, with authorized copies of the scenes

The growth of mass culture

from A Harlot’s Progress, were each more than half a metre wide.

The growth of mass culture

23. A miniscule facsimile of scene 1, from John Trusler and Jane Hogarth’s popular handbook, Hogarth Moralized (1768).

century sensibilities, gave it a happier ending.9 Even more common was the recycling of particular details, as images on their own or as part of other compositions. In all these ways, Hogarth’s ideas and imagery came to be consciously and unconsciously appropriated, reused, and disseminated, far beyond the circle of his own clients (see illustrations 24 to 27).

Exactly the same happened to the Rake’s Progress, whose original prints were swamped by a flood of authorized and (especially) unauthor­ized copies and adaptations – some of which went so far as to add an extra scene to the story (see illustrations 28 to 35).10 Even the name of the work was endlessly parroted and reappropriated: the ‘rake’s pro­gress’ has become a proverbial phrase. From the early eighteenth century onwards, this general process of copying, echoing, and respond­ing to original works was one of the chief means through which all popular images and texts achieved their cultural impact.

The evolution of copyright did eventually come to inhibit the most direct kinds of borrowing. The Engravers’ Copyright Act of 1735 was one reason why fewer plagiaries were produced of Marriage a la Mode and Industry and Idleness than of Hogarth’s earlier series – though it never stopped them altogether. In the case of books, likewise, as William St Clair has brilliantly shown, by the end of the eighteenth century the development of copyright law directly affected what texts were likely, or not, to be widely re-printed and read. The more general trend was nevertheless towards ever greater multiplication and inter­action between media. From the early eighteenth century onwards, works of fiction and non-fiction alike were in much more overt and continuous dialogue with each other, and with their public, than ever before. In this new universe of communication, being publicly reviewed, excerpted, copied, commented on, parodied, criticized, praised and discussed was not secondary to the message of the work itself: it was an inextricable part of what was communicated to the audience. The popular success of any major work, whether A Harlot’s Progress or Pamela, was henceforth always as much a mass media event as an art­istic triumph.11

This also multiplied its possible meanings. Until the end of the sev­enteenth century, the consumption and interpretation of texts and images had always been a much more private and restricted process. Indeed, with the partial exception of political and religious controver­sies, we generally only know about people’s reactions to new publications through private correspondence and the occasional mar­ginal annotation in a book. There were no broader, permanent, public networks through which ordinary people could exchange cultural opinions. The media revolution changed this irrevocably. From the eighteenth century onwards, interpretations of any widely noticed publication were immediately made visible, magnified, and communi­cated to the general public through a dense network of ancillary media.

The result was a much wider, more permanent, and more self­conscious reading public than had existed before. Yet this was a virtual community, rather than a tangible one. Indeed, the explosion of newspapers, pamphlets, and novels may actually (as some contem­porary moralists worried) have increased the extent to which men and women formed their opinions through solitary reading and in smaller groups, rather than from older, more general sources of authority.12 It certainly encouraged the expression of a greater multi­plicity of views than ever before. What, then, were the main features of this expansion and democratization of the media? How exactly did

The growth of mass cultureThe growth of mass culture

Подпись: я № 3 ‘ cy| f щІІ SSHh' ^ 1 /V
177is tyst/n/’fy /Рг//Лг/■T/t/tfHt/Suits. W/и/ ‘ Jrti/rAwt aft /trrtf /урш/ъ/:

Подпись: rfftrit/rr /// Mo fipfenj Jfjft/r.1To t/o/? Ms Soe/u^fa? 4/!тґ*м АИс/л*

The growth of mass culture

The growth of mass culture

24-27. A few of the many unauthorized plagiaries of A Harlot’s
Progress: it was through the ubiquity of copies like these that
Hogarth’s compositions became so generally familiar.

The growth of mass culture

28. William Hogarth, A Rake’s Progress (1735): Scene 1: The young man comes into his inheritance.

it alter the nature of public opinion, and the boundary between public and private affairs?