In the engraving entitled The Reward of Cruelty, the English artist William Hogarth (1697-1764), demonstrates the popular view of 18th century- medicine as a ghoulish occupation involving skeletons, cauldrons of boiling bones, and buckets of entrails thrown to the dogs. In Hogarth’s representation of an anatomy lecture, barber-surgeons seem to enjoy the work of carving up the body while pompously mortar-boarded physicians observe distractedly. Overhead the coat of arms of the King proclaims the imprimatur of the crown, also alluded to by the noose of the gallows that remains around the neck of the grimacing corpse of Tom Nero, who for his capital crimes suffers a fate considered even worse than death.
In A Going! A Going!, a physician, himself rosy-cheeked, well-fed, and hence well-paid, visits an sickly patient too ill to leave his bedroom. A list of prescriptions on the table and a collection of medications on the window sill indicate that an ineffective treatment has been going on for a long time. Revealing a ridiculous lack of empathy, the physician exclaims, “Dear Sir, you look this morning the picture of health. I have nay doubt at my next visit I shall find you intirely cured of all your earthly infirmitys.” The print suggests that it is in the doctor’s best interest for his patient to remain sick as long as possible. Until the patient dies, he is worth more sick than healthy.
While the physician in A Going! A Going! is more concerned with making money than healing patients, Doctor Doubledose allows the pleasures of the flesh to override his responsibilities to the sick. In this print the lustful physician shows no concern that the elderly woman is so comatose that her pulse, which he pretends to take, may have altogether stopped. The medications on the table include a jar of opium which he has prescribed in too large a dose. Perhaps this was his plan all along in order to seduce the young daughter, whose cheeks are flushed by his advances. Rowlandson calls attention to doctor’s phallic cane, inscribed “Medical Staff,” to coarsely allude to the true motivation for Doctor Doubledose’s visit.
As in Hogarth’s Reward of Cruelty, the physician in Giving up the Ghost or One Too Many is associated with corpses, skeletons, and death. While the sleeping doctor is oblivious to everything, his patient succumbs in spite of discarded medications strewn under the bed. An apothecary bottle in his pocket points to the physician’s ineffectual treatments. Death has appeared at the window, holding a violent javelin and an hourglass indicating that the patient’s time is up. A representative from the undertaker has also arrived, bearing a mourning mute’s wand and a coffin on his back. The paper at the physican’s feet presents his indifference to the patient’s fate: “I purge I bleed I sweat em / Then if they Die I Lets em.”