Charles Allston Collins

Dundee Museums and Art Gallery

Objective Description
     This printed image concerns itself with human figures surrounding a centrally placed bottle labeled 'Fine Cordial Gin.' To the right of the bottle, a standing male figure points to the gin bottle and instrument on the floor while looking at the figure on the left. The standing male figure also holds the limp arm of the closed-eyed female figure in the bed. Next to the bed, a young girl holds a baby who is facing and reaching for the figure on the bed. An additional child rubs its eye and bends its head.
      To the left of center, a ragged figure leans against a wooden chair, looking towards the bed, table and standing figure. The broken table holds the bottle of "Fine Cordial Gin", an empty glass and what appears to be a pipe. A poker, placed diagonally on the floor, points in the direction of the bed. To the left of the leaning man, an open door frames a young child and an adult with a stovepipe hat. Left of the doorframe, a semi-curtained window frames several onlookers as well as another stovepipe hatted individual.

Subjective Description
     The proliferation of drink was considered an evil among the working poor. Cheap gin was available at a very low price, and offered to the working class an escape to the drudgeries of everyday life. The boom in gin drinking began in the 1720s, when the government freed gin from many of the restrictions controlling its sale. By 1751, gin's availability was restricted as higher taxes were imposed.
      The leaning drunken man has beaten his wife to death. The instrument of murder, the poker, lies on the floor pointing directly to the dead wife in the bed. The murderer shows no remorse, only casual and grim acceptance.
      The centrally placed and erect doctor, meanwhile, holds the limp hand of the dead wife who fades into the shadows of the drawing. The motherless children weep, setting up a deliberate situation of emotional morality. The child in the doorway is left to explain the situation to the constable as he too appears grim faced.
      Both central players in the drama (the murdering husband and the moral doctor) are placed on either side of the gin bottle. Both figures face each other as well as the true 'instrument' of death, deliberately positioned and shaded so that viewers would be able to recognize the evils of drink.

A first effect of poverty… is the confiscation of a poor man's best time and thought, from sheer necessity, to the task of providing food and clothing for himself and his family… A man can work hard, if his work is also felt to be a source of refinement, of instruction, of discipline, of recreation; if it enlightens his mind, if it purifies his affections. As a rule, a poor man's work is not of that description: it is, from all points of view save that of the wages it yields, unremunerative, because it is more or less mechanical╝ Another effect of poverty is that it often blights those domestic scenes of happiness which prepare the way of religion in the soul. In the natural course of things, kindliness, courtesy, refinement, are the products of home life; the home is the center and the manufactury of these natural graces. It is to his family that a man escapes when his day's toil is over. At home he forgets the passions and the rivalries, be they great or small, of his public life… at home the finer side of human nature has a chance of growing, as being sure of its nutriment and welcome...two things are needed: competency and order. And how often are these wanting in the households of the poor!… a comfortless home is often more fatal to character than to health. It chills the affections; it sours the temper; it ends by doing more. Nothing is more common than to hear severe language applied to the poor man's habit of spending his evenings at the public house… It is the road to ruin without a doubt…

Henry Liddon; Sermon, 1876