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This article is taken from PN Review 246, Volume 45 Number 4, March - April 2019.

From Chetham’s Library

16: The Toft Scandal
Michael Powell
SOMETIMES only an artist will do. William Hogarth’s ‘Cuniculari, or the Wise Men of Godliman in Consultation’ was one of two prints that Hogarth produced on the Toft scandal of 1726–27. The story is well known. Mary Toft of Godalming in Surrey claimed to have given birth to rabbits. This was hailed as living proof of the effect of the imagination during pregnancy: Mary had claimed that she and a friend had seen two rabbits in a field and had chased them. The failure to catch them had created such a sense of longing that she had miscarried and from then on could think of nothing other than rabbits. Soon she began to give birth to parts of animals including nine rabbits. Fashionable medical men descended on Godalming, including Nathaniel St André, the Swiss anatomist to the Royal Household, and Sir Richard Manningham, the distinguished male midwife.

Two weeks before the appearance of Hogarth’s ‘Cuniculari’, the story had become fake news and Toft had confessed to a hoax. The original rabbit had been inserted into her uterus and subsequent bits into her vagina. But Hogarth reserved his satire not for poor Mary Toft and her friends who had attempted to hoodwink the gullible, but for the so-called experts who had allowed themselves to be so easily duped. St André is seen with a fiddle under his arm dancing to avoid treading on the cute little bunnies. Manningham, the midwife, is dressed as a woman – for Hogarth, there was a question as to why any man ...

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