The South Sea Bubble and the Resurgence of Misogyny: Cato, Mandeville and Defoe

  • E. J. Clery
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Cultures of Print book series (PERCP)


Progress is commonly figured as a linear movement through time. But decline has from ancient times been represented not as a reversal, but as a recurrent event in the merry-go-round of history, a denial of even the possibility of genuine progress. William Hogarth depicted the South Sea Bubble, the great stock market crash of 1720, as a collision of lines and circles. His print, The South Sea Scheme (1721), is dominated by two circular emblems (figure 2). In the foreground, the naked figure of Honesty is broken on the wheel by Self-interest. In the middle ground, crowds flock round a merry-go-round, where a prostitute, a clergyman, a female street-seller, an old crone (a brothel-keeper?) and a Jacobite with tam-o-shanter sit astride phallic horse-heads. The central pole is topped by the lubricious sign of the goat and a notice with the suggestive challenge ‘Who’l Ride’. The speculative urge is damned by a combination of plain moral allegory and politico-sexual innuendo. Together the emblems signify the compulsive quality of the passion for acquisition and the repetitive nature of fate.


Moral Virtue Grand Jury Feminist Argument Divine Punishment Republican Tradition 
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© E. J. Clery 2004

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