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“Who’l Ride ?”

The South Sea Bubble
300 Years National Debt Speculation

Hogarth, William (1697 London 1764). Emblematical Print of the South Sea. Memorial sheet on the people’s eagerness to speculate in connection with the worldwide stock market fraud of the South Sea Bubble (1711-1720) and John Law’s concurrent Mississippi Bubble. Engraving by Thomas Cook (c. 1744 – London 1818). Inscribed: Hogarth pinxt. / T. Cook sculp. / Published by Longman, Hurst, Rees & Orme, Aug 1st. 1809., otherwise as above. Subject size 5¾ × 7½ in (14.5 × 19 cm).

The rich scenario of human frenzy ,

golden promises , lottery fortunes ,

and the perversion of the values of civilization :

“ See here ye. Causes why in London, / So many Men are made & undone, / That Arts, & honest Trading drop, / To Swarm about ye. Devils shop, (A) / Who Cuts out (B) Fortunes Golden Haunches,

Trapping their Souls with Lotts & Chances, / Shareing em from Blue Garters down / To all Blue Aprons in the Town. / Here all Religions flock together, / Like Tame & Wild Fowl of a Feather,

Leaving their strife Religious bustle, / Kneel down to play at pitch & Hussle, (C) / Thus when the Sheepherds are at play, / Their flocks must surely go Astray, / The woeful Cause yt. in these times,

(E) Honour, & (D) honesty, are Crimes, / That publickly are punish’d by / (G) Self Interest, and (F) Vilany; / So much for monys magick power / Guess at the Rest you find out more. ”

William Hogarth, Emblematical Print of the South Sea

On the left Guildhall with the statue of the Gog or Magog and below Fortune hanged naked by her hair, thrown in slices among the people by the devil with the scythe (“the Devil cutting Fortune into collops”, Walpole), on the right the monumental base of the Monument to the Great Fire of London together with fighting foxes, while the inscription is adjusted to the occasion:

“ This Monument was erected

in Memory of the Destruction of this City

by the South Sea in 1720 ”.

At the center, however, following Callot’s hanging tree from the Grandes misères de la guerre the wheel of fortune surmounted by a goat and the inscription “Who’l Ride” as merry-go-round with wooden horses on which representatives of all classes – whore, clergyman, boot black, hag, nobleman – chase after their supposedly certain luck. Counterpart to this the ladies of society queuing behind Guildhall below deer antlers for a raffle of husbands with lottery fortunes. In the background finally the dome of St. Paul’s. On the ground before the Wheel of Fortune stripped Honesty is broken on the wheel by Self-interest in the presence of an Anglican priest, on the right at the pillory in front of the memorial Villainy – the mask is fallen, the pistol of the highwayman peers out of the pocket – scourges Honor, whose cloak is appropriated by a monkey with bicorne and sword standing on the side as allegory of pretending. Far left finally, unaffected by the general tumult, one Catholic, Jew, and Puritan each attend to their own game of chance. The trade as source of real wealth, however, resting unnoticed front right or already passed away.

The crowd in Hogarth’s study of 1721 in the Royal Library, Windsor, barely indicated by the way and elaborated in the print only as

“ a first glimpse of Hogarth’s

vivid characterisation of current life ”

(Lawrence Gowing in the 1972 exhibition catalog of Tate Gallery, no. 2).

The wiser among the contemporaries of course recognized the dishonesty of the shifting of government bonds placed only with difficulty and at high interest anymore to the South Sea Company formed solely for this purpose – the trade monopoly with the Spanish colonies in South America promising immense gains, actually granting but one ship per year, was just a front for the paying audience – from the beginning.

So then Robert Walpole, who as First Lord of the Treasury of many years led England back to prosperity after the bursting of the speculation bubble, was an outspoken opponent of the manipulations. What, however, did not keep him from taking part in the speculation and profiting from it by timely selling, and later to protect some of the primarily responsible from punishment – the debtors’ prison was, as always, reserved largely for the little debtors. And also Lady Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, was not deceived:

“ In 1720 the amazing episode of the South Sea Bubble inflamed, scorched, and seared London society. Sarah, with her almost repellent common sense, forced the Duke out of the market before the collapse, and added £100,000 to the fortune which he and she had gathered. Nor was this feminine intuition. In a blistering letter she wrote, while all England was bewitched by speculation,

‘ Every mortal that has common sense

or that knows anything of figures

sees that ’tis not possible by all the arts and tricks upon earth

long to carry £ 400,000,000 of paper credit with £ 15,000,000 of specie .

This makes me think

that this project must burst in a little while

and fall to nothing ’ ”

(Winston S. Churchill, Marlborough: His Life and Times [Chicago 2002], vol. II, pp. 1032 f.)

Just as three centuries later the far-sighted again were not beguiled by the siren songs of immense growth and realized in time that a currency neither can be put upon a base of quite contrary financial and economical cultures nor this could be saved then by ever so faster galloping government bond-jobbing, which – no different than after the bursting of South Sea, Mississippi and other bubbles – ultimately has to be paid for by the masses.

Nowadays as Yesterday:
300 Years Debt Speculation at the People’s Expense

Hogarth’ South Sea Scheme besides – so Paulson – not only

“ the one original Bubble print by an English artist ”

but generally marking the beginning of satiric prints in England :

“ English graphic satire really begins with

Hogarth’s Emblematical Print on the South Sea Scheme ”

(John J. Richetti, in The Cambridge History of English Literature, 1660-1780, p. 85).

In the rich palette of events & allusions

yet already a full Hogarth

as so not matched by the compositionally yet less energetic companion piece The Lottery produced some years later. – Cook “made his mark as Hogarth engraver, too, whose complete work he has engraved in copy” (Thieme-Becker) and whose original format he maintained contrary to all later Hogarth editions in his first, earlier edition. For some sheets not published by Hogarth himself Cook became their first engraver, just as he also gained approval of a contemporary connoisseur as Maximilian Speck von Sternburg. However, present here in his popular later, smaller version without Hogarth’s explanatory verses. – Trimmed within the wide white platemark which is slightly stained especially on the right.

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