This well known satirical print shows the excesses of the South Sea Bubble. It is located in a juxtaposed London scene with the Guildhall, The Monument and St Pauls Cathedral. The key to the work is the rewritten inscription on The Monument which was constructed, between 1671-1677, to mark the rebuilding of the City of London after the Great Fire of London. Hogarth’s inscription reads “The monument was erected in memory of the destruction of the city by the South Sea in 1720”.
The broad scope of investors in the South Sea Scheme is illustrated by the central merry-go-round which features, among the riders, a whore, a clergyman, a boot black, an old crone and a Scottish nobleman. Churchmen are seen playing a gambling game to the left of the print and the description underneath includes the words “….when the shepherds are at play their flocks must surely go astray” implying they are neglecting their duty of moral guidance to their congregations. Self interest has overcome honesty and honour; as depicted by the figures being beaten indicating that the avarice of seeking quick money has undermined social values. Meanwhile a large queue of women are waiting for “Raffling for Husbands with Lottery Fortune”; women hoping to improve their social standing by winning on the State Lottery introduced during the preceding decade. “Arts and Honest Trading Drop”- “Trade” is shown abandoned while the populace seek speculative wealth through gambling, stock jobbing or from the state lottery.
The pursuit of unearned riches is portrayed as The Devil entrapping the souls of those enticed away from honest toil. The predatory nature of the banks and lottery operators are characterised by the wolves seen circling the pedestal of The Monument. The overall perspective of Hogarth is summarised by the image of “The grossly mutilated and blindfolded figure of Fortune is shown hanging by her hair from the balcony of London’s Guildhall. Her body is being hacked by a scythe-wielding devil, who throws hunks of her flesh to the crazed speculators below.”