After you all did so well on the last challenge – here is another print to test your visual skills on.  This time the artist is William Hogarth.

The same rules apply as last time – no google allowed.  Just look at the print, tell me what you see and what you think it means.


Taxes on Hope, and Other Well-Deservedness

This will be a very specific example of a common failing of human intellect, yet intended as indicative of the much more general failings of this faculty. I will speak of lotteries. Yet the stupidity implied is not the unwillingness to accept that most, including you, will lose far more than they will win. I speak of a delusion so awesome in its foundation I could suspect the ubiquitous, bloody-minded adherence to it is a form of mass cultural embarrassment.

‘Systems’ for selecting numbers will be passed over, unworthy of as much attention as this sentence gives them. Or perhaps we can select one, the proponents of which likely see themselves as free of superstition and delusion: random selection. Fair enough, we may think, one has to pick six, or however many, numbers, and this at least is free of supranatural thinking. It may be free, but you are not. The randomists are not free, and their feared enemy is order.

There is one reason not to choose 1,2,3,4,5,6, but it is not to do with probability, and I will lead you on a little thought experiment to show this.

Picture two lottery machines. One contains 49 unmarked balls. The other, 49 balls marked with the standard symbols for 1-49. Most people would concede (and if any wouldn’t, there would be little point continuing to converse) the odds of any set of six unmarked balls being returned from the first machine are entirely even. So. What do we imagine happens to the marked balls in the second machine that the inclusion of symbols that we, contingently, use to represent numbers that they can warp the universe and any probabilistic rules which apply? If we rubbed the numbers off does the local universe return to normal? Or have we forever scarred the continuum fabric?

No one likes this thought. Even now, disgruntled readers, you would never select 1,2,3,4,5,6, because you know it is less likely than a selection which contains no obvious pattern. And though it offends, this is a failing. And the specific risks the general.

Oh. And the real reason never to pick 1,2,3,4,5,6? Because, if you won, you’d have to share the money with a surprising number of unbearable, obnoxious smart-alecs like me who simply want to gloat.

Do You See What I See?

I am currently writing an essay on James Gillray and it got me thinking about interpretation.

So, without looking at Google or researching the following – tell me what you see when you look at this caricature.  Spend some time looking at the print – the more you look, the more you will see.



Courtesy is one of those elements of life that requires reciprocation to confer its meaning upon actions. Where courtesy is not understood as reciprocal, or not understood as a practice at all, it ceases to be perceived as it is intended, but is seen, rather, as a form of weakness. But who among us practices courtesy with the attendant thought that it is deference, or submission?

No, it is in fact a strength, and an abundance of spirit. I give you this, I allow you this, I hold this for you, I restrict myself in your favour. Where this is not actually subservience, is this not a sign of a plenary nature, a nature that is overfull of its surety in giving to others, in scattering its gifts without fear of diminution?

And yet, and yet… How strong must the spirit be to be weather being forever misunderstood, to have one’s carefree lavishness to be seen as craven, to suffer that most galling of inversions? Does this not make one stray from the abundant nature, to rail against those too blind or indifferent to acknowledge it, to inevitably sink back into the feeble medium?

The norms and specifics of courtesy will change. They must. A wise man said it is immoral to wish that what is good or right for one must be good or right for another. Yet the form remains. It is no contradiction, yet it speaks against reason: here the weak wreck the strong.

Mind Your Ps and Qs

Whether it is talking in your mobile loudly on train, not saying please and thank-you or asking for the receipts for your birthday presents because you don’t like your Mum’s choices, manners are expected and ignored everywhere.  In Britain more than most places in the world, there is an overriding sense of anguish if the strict code is ignored or if a child is not imbued from birth with a decent moral fibre.  And yet, many of the habits and rituals that are today accepted as the custom were once seen as immoral or would now appear alien to any of our predecessors lucky enough to have a time machine and the will to visit the 21st century.

The eighteenth century was awash with literature, print, pamphlets and a plethora of other ephemera telling one how to behave.  To conduct one’s self appropriately and lead a morally righteous life there were strict guidelines that dictated the dos and don’ts in everything from what to wear, what books to read and games to play with whom and when.  Nothing was left to the possibility that desire and vice would tempt the god-fearing away from the moral path.  In reality though, the picture was somewhat different.  A large proportion of the educated populous were questioning the place for religion in society.  Even larger portions were indulging in the heady world of fashion, luxury and worst of all, pleasure.

In 1754 a pamphlet was published entitled “Admonitions from the Dead in Epistles to the Living” and consisted of several letters purporting to be, as suggested, from those that had passed proffering advice to those left behind.  Each letter highlights a particular evil that the author/ess feels needs to be addressed.  For example, Letter XII is from a father to his son on “Intemperance in Eating” using both definitions of the word to ward against excessive drinking and partaking in pleasures deemed unsavoury from the heavenly realms.  Through several protracted pages of brow beating, the Father shows his concern at the vice of his son (although by the end one feels like a swift gin).

Further advice  comes from Lady ****** to Miss G*****G amusingly allaying the fears of the latter by assuring her that whilst ghostly apparitions are frightening, the dead write letters as much as the living and should therefore not fear her advice.  The theme of this counsel is the ‘Insignificancy of Beauty’ deriding beauty over character.  The Lady writes “to have one man say we are good, is worth a Thousand calling us handsome.”  She warns her reader to beware the advances of men who prey on beautiful girls and bestows the wisdom that it is better to avoid parties of pleasure should one feel ill at ease with the company.  Good advice indeed but whether heeded by the young Miss, we shall never know.

There are a multitude of pieces like the “Admonitions” although many perhaps not so sinister in nature and yet in allows a glimpse into the contradictory world of the period.  At once both indulgent in pleasure and terrified of vice.

So, should we all feel lucky or privileged that no herald bears down on us when we break wind or forget to thank Aunty Sue for the lovely dinner?  When your epistolic admonition arrives, don’t say I didn’t warn you!