Four Prints of an election, etching and engraving by Hogarth, 1755-1758 (Burke and Caldwell n 237-40).
An Election Entertainment, 1755
This print features a wide cast of people from various backgrounds at a Whig election entertainment (Burke and Caldwell n. 237). Their placement around the table is suggestive of the last supper, with the diners all to one side, surrounded by musicians, overturned tables, and barrels of beer. While there is a notable intermixing of gentleman and commoner alike (Burke and Caldwell n 237), the focal points of the print are the overfed man at right being bled by a surgeon (Burke and Caldwell n. 237) and the man being forced into an embrace with a woman. Their clothing and placements at the table’s ends indicate their importance. Just to the right of center in the foreground, there is a man who appears to be ill or drunk who is having alcohol poured directly into his head; to his right, a man falls from a chair, his book flying after him. There is a pile of hats, tossed nonchalantly in the bottom left corner. In the top left, a flag hangs limply; it reads: “Liberty and Loyalty.” To the right of the flag, a posh-looking woman casts her eyes downward as men attempt to fondle her and give her gifts. The overall effect is one of an uncoordinated and destructive party--perhaps a comment on government elections in general.
Canvassing for Votes 1757
In the foreground of this print, men appear to be soliciting, with varying degrees of success, voters outside a city tavern, whilst women stand at a balcony (top right) talking to a man below them. At right, another woman sits in a chair in the shape of a lion, counting money, whilst a man in a papal mitre spies on her from the doorway of an inn. In the foreground to the left, two men sit at a tavern table smoking a pipe and considering the scene before them. In the background, there is an image of men rioting outside of the excise office. Members of both parties offer the man in the center foreground bribes and the painted sign above him satirizes a “punch candidate” who is throwing out bribes to his constituents. Overall, the scene emphasizes political bribery and mercenary motivations of the voting populace.
The Polling 1758
This print appears to be set outside of a government office, and shows men lining up to vote. In the center of the engraving, there is a man in a wheelchair who appears to be mentally disabled. He seems to be under the influence of the man behind him, telling him what to do. This is likely a commentary on the legitimacy of the voting process. On the balcony, people are reacting with various emotions to the vote of the man in the wheelchair. Another man has just cast his vote; he has a peg leg and appears to be swearing on a bible with his hooked hand. Behind him to the right, a man is shouting, his eyes toward heaven. At right, a card player cheating, surreptitiously slipping a card behind the other player’s back. The next voter in line is obviously seriously ill, and has been dragged out for the purpose of casting his vote. Overall, the suggestion of the print is that the electorate is somehow handicapped or unable to make rational decisions, and is therefore unduly influenced by those with nefarious motives.
Chairing the Members 1758
This print depicts the outcome of the election and the chairing of the new members of parliament. A riot seems to have broken out; men with bludgeons beat each other, livestock runs wild, guns go off, half-dressed and wounded men retreat, and a man in a chair is about to be dropped on the floor. On the margins, women and black slaves look on. In the garret in the upper right corner, a scribbler writes commentary. Despite the chaos, others, probably of the victorious party, continue their celebration, parading and playing music amidst the violence. Hogarth’s first engraving, An Election Entertainment, portrays a political banquet organized by the Whig Party, in which Hogarth uses the design of the Last Supper to satirize the “drunkeness, gluttony, violence, bribery and deception” that occurred at such events” (“Hogarth”). Canvassing for Votes, the second engraving, portrays the headquarters of the Tory party, in which there is a sign that criticizes the Whig candidate for using bribery to gain votes. The irony in this piece, is found just below that sign, where the Tory candidate is buying small gifts for the girls in exchange for their vote. Additionally, there is a farmer in the center of the picture who is simultaneously “being solicited by political operatives from both parties” (Small). The third scene, The Polling, depicts both political parties attempting “to extract votes from whomever they can, while disputing the other side’s right to do the same” (Small). Humorously, one party is attempting to coerce a mentally-ill man for his vote, while the other party is carrying up “a man in a white shroud who is either dying or already dead” and trying to bring him to their side. (Small) “In the background, a carriage emblazoned with Britannia’s flag topples over while the two coachmen obliviously play cards, further emphasizing the message that political negligence and mismanagement have imperiled the nation” (Small). The final engraving, Chairing the Members, is a chaotic scene of the victorious Tory candidates parading the streets. “Led by a blind fiddler and surrounded by a chaotic crowd of people and animals, the central winner is about to fall as one of his bearers has been inadvertently hit in the head by another brawling supporter” (Small).
The four engravings that make up Four Prints of an Election are based on the “disorderly, riotous Oxfordshire election of 1754 in which the Duke of Marlborough, a Whig ("the New Interest"), challenged the entrenched Tories ("the Old Interest") in the established stronghold of the latter party” (“Hogarth)). While the Oxfordshire election inspired these prints, the satirical nature lies in Hogarth’s attempt to expose and criticize political corruption, especially “the behaviors and traits associated with winning by any means and at all costs” (Small). Hogarth’s satire is aimed at both parties: “It exposes both parties as exciting the most degrading proclivities of the least able sections of the electorate (the poor, the simpleminded, the maimed, the dying) to produce a violence and an anarchy that ultimately envelops all and threatens the very ambitions they sought to satisfy” (“Hogarth”).
According to Lisa Small, a writer for the Brooklyn Museum, Hogarth’s prints do include some historical influences. Living in a very politically divided world, Hogarth primarily drew his inspiration from the political struggles between the Whigs and the Tories during the 1754 election in Oxfordshire. With two seats in parliament up for grabs, the struggle between these two political groups led to an apparent “winning by any means” mentality. As Small puts it, “Hogarth depicts four stages of an election, each of which is filled with acts of bribery, mayhem, wastefulness, and venality” (Small).
It is important to note that this election was a much-contested one, in which major mistakes occurred, ultimately creating a controversial outcome. With both parties offering insane bribes to voters, the eventual result led to an almost even vote, with all four candidates receiving nearly the same amount of votes, roughly 25% each. To make things more complicated, the person in charge of overseeing the election declared that all four candidates were elected for the two available seats in Parliament, making the situation even more awkward. With no clear way to determine the true victor, the election and the candidates involved went to court, leading to riots and further conflict until a compromise was reached later into the following year. The court proceedings were used to determine the legitimacy of each vote, leading to a close decision in favor of the Whigs. It was only after these events where both parties agreed to never pull something like this again (Namier #).
Burke, Joseph and Colin Caldwell, eds. Hogarth: The Complete Engravings. New York: Abrams, 1988. Print.
Namier, L. B., and John Brooke. The House of Commons, 1754-1790. New York: Published for the History of Parliament Trust by Oxford UP, 1964. Print.
"Wm. Hogarth: Four Prints of an Election." Darvill's Rare Prints. 2014. Web. 4 Aug. 2014
Small, Lisa. “William Hogarth’s Election Series.” BKM TECH. Brooklyn Museum 12 Nov. 2012. Web. 17 July 2014.