when tea is over."

Category: Daily Life | Type: Historical | Title: Emma (in Context) | Author: Jane Austen | Vol: Volume II | Ch: Chapter VII

About tea, gin, and taxes. Tea became popular in the mid-18th c. in part as a substitute for spirits.

In 1751, a high tax was finally restored to spirits such as gin. The tax ended the thirty-year gin craze that was killing extraordinary numbers of people in London. Cheap gin became available in 1720 when the landowners, seeing an opportunity to realize more profit from grains, pressed for a reduction of the spirits tax, making gin cheaper than beer. The effect over the next thirty years was catastrophic for the life especially of the lower classes.

William Hogarth depicted the effects in a pair of contrasting paintings, "Gin Lane" and "Beer Street," 1751, the year the tax on spirits was restored. Hogarth shows the people in Beer Street as robust, prosperous, roast-beef loving Englishmen, happy with their national drink. "Gin Lane" is in a stupor of anarchy, cruelty, and homicidal negligence. (Chiefly London experienced the gin craze.) People then returned to beer and turned to tea, which was reasonable in cost and like ale rendered the water safe.


return to text