Mary Toft (Tofts) appearing to give birth to rabbits in the presence of several surgeons and man-midwives sent from London to examine her. Etching by W. Hogarth, 1726.

  • Hogarth, William, 1697-1764.
[22 December 1726]
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On Mary Toft see the Dictionary of national biography. She lived at Godalming (Godliman) near Guildford, Surrey. She claimed to have given birth to rabbits after having had a dream about rabbits while pregnant (in accordance with the idea of the influence of maternal imagination). She later stated the births were a hoax, suggested and activated by another woman

In the present print Mary Toft is marked F and described in the lettering as "The lady in the straw". On the left is Mary Toft's husband Joshua, marked E and described in the lettering as "The rabbet getter", and a woman marked G and described in the lettering as "The nurse or rabbet dresser": she is identified by Todd as Margaret Toft, the sister of Joshua Toft and his partner in the fraud. Right foreground, the three visitors from London. The man-midwife feeling but not looking under her garment, marked B, says "It pouts it swells it spreads it comes"; in the lettering, he is described as "An occult philosopher searching into the depth of things". Todd identifies this figure as a hybrid of two people. In saying "It pouts it swells it spreads it comes", the man is Sir Richard Manningham FRS, who suspected fraud but was misinterpreted at one point as suggesting that Toft was about to give birth to a rabbit. However the lettering "An occult philosopher searching into the depth of things" identifies him as Samuel Molyneux FRS (1689-1728), astronomer and politician, who was one of the courtiers sent by King George I to Surrey to examine Mary Toft. Right of him, a man marked C and described in the lettering as "The sooterkin doctor astonish'd", and saying "A Sooterkin" is John Maubray, author of a treatise on the sooterkin (a kind of animated afterbirth believed to exist in the Netherlands), and one of four doctors who attended Toft in London on 4 December 1726. Further to right, marked A and described in the lettering as "The danceing master or præternatural anatomist", is Nathanael St André, a Swiss dilettante, dancing-master, amateur surgeon, and courtier, who promoted the genuineness of the rabbit-births: he says "A great birth". At the door on the right, marked D and described in the lettering as "The Guildford rabbet man midwife", is John Howard, a local surgeon and man-midwife from Guildford: he is rejecting the offer of a rabbit from a villager and saying "It's too big", implying complicity with Toft

A parody of the Adoration of the Magi, which, in addition, uses the topical scandal of the Mary Toft case to satirise Enthusiasm (religious fanaticism): the three "wise men" exclaim ecstatically at the phenomenon in front of them. Because Hogarth wished to satirise the credulousness of the Enthusiasts, he does not differentiate the visitors as between those who accepted Toft's claims (such as St André) and those who doubted them (such as Manningham, Cyriacus Ahlers and James Douglas): they are all portrayed as accepting. The virtuoso-astronomer (such as Molyneux) "had become the stock representative of the Enthusiast", explicitly so in the character of Sidrophel in Samuel Butler's poem Hudibras (Todd, op. cit. and Paulson, 2003, loc. cit.)


[London] : [publisher not identified], [22 December 1726]

Physical description

1 print : etching ; platemark 18.8 x 25.3 cm


Cunicularii or the wise men of Godliman in consultation. They held their talents most adroit / For any mystical exploit. Hudib[ras]. ...


State II.

References note

British Museum, Catalogue of political and personal satires. vol. II. London 1873, no. 1779
Dennis Todd, 'Three characters in Hogarth's Cunicularii -- and some implications', Eighteenth-century studies, 1982, 16: 26-46
R. Paulson, Hogarth's graphic works, 3 ed., London 1989, no. 106 [107]. pp. 69-70
Lisa Cody, '"The doctor's in labour; or a new whim wham from Guildford"', Gender & history, 1992, 4: 175-196
Ronald Paulson, Hogarth’s harlot: sacred parody in Enlightenment England, Baltimore & London 2003, p. 76
Lisa Forman Cody, Birthing the nation, Oxford 2005, pp. 120-142
Sabine Doering-Manteuffel, Das Okkulte, München 2008, p. 15 (reproduced)

Exhibitions note

Exhibited in "The Museum of Ordinary Animals: The boring beasts that changed the world" at Grant Museum of Zoology, London, 21 September - 22 December 2017


Wellcome Collection 17342i



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