Writing British Infanticide: Child-Murder, Gender, and Print, 1722-1859

By Jennifer Thorn | Go to book overview

The Gender Dynamics of the
Infanticide Prevention Campaign
in Eighteenth-Century England and
Richardson's History of Sir Charles Grandison

Lisa Zunshine

ON 24 APRIL 1750, WILLIAM HOGARTH PUT HIS PAINTING THE MARCH TO Finchley up for auction, the proceeds from which were to go to London's Foundling Hospital. What happened next, according to the Gentleman's Magazine, was that a "certain lady" discovered herself "the possessor of the fortunate number" and decided to present the painting to the Hospital. She was dissuaded, however, from doing so directly, "some person "having suggested" what door it would open to scandal, were any of her sex to make such a present."1 One possible rationale behind the prudent suggestion could be the subject matter of the painting. The central characters in the painting are a handsome grenadier about to depart to battle, his jealous wife, and his young mistress. According to Justice Welsh, Hogarth's friend, the younger woman is "debauched, with child, and reduced to the miserable employ of selling ballads, and who, with a look full of love, tenderness, and distress, casts up her eyes upon her undoer, and with tears descending down her cheeks, seems to say, 'sure you cannot—will not leave me!"'2 The painting intended as a gift to the public charitable institution thus depicted a working-class woman pregnant with an illegitimate child—a potential inmate of the same institution (the Foundling Hospital was designed to shelter children of unmarried working-class women, liable to be abandoned in the street or murdered shortly after birth by their desperate mothers). The situation was ambiguous, but it was not this ambiguity that informed the reaction to the generous lady's initiative. In fact, we know that the lady (her name remaining unknown) handed The March to Finchley over to the artist, and Hogarth gave it to the Hospital in his own name; it was gladly accepted and proudly exhibited in the General Court Room. It was specifically the gender of the donor,

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