In this elaborate political allegory Hogarth idealizes and defends George III and the Earl of Bute's ministry and descredits its enemies. The print depicts a conflagration (war), which has spread through several buildings representing different countries. The house with the sign of the two men shaking hands stands for Spain's and France's united war effort against England; the place with the two-headed eagle represents Germany, the house with lily, France. The widespread nature of the war is revealed by the globe ablaze.
Fanning the fire is Pitt (in early states Henry VIII), the real power in the former government. Elevated artificially by stilts, he towers above his fanatical mob of supporters who include three adoring City aldermen and some noisy, clamorous butchers. Around his neck he wears a millstone inscribe "3000 £ per annum," his pension at retirement.
In the center of the scene stands a fire-engine (Britain) bearing the royal arms, four hands joined in cooperation and the words "Union Office," identifying it as being from Cheapside's Union Fire Office and referring to the union of England and Scotland. Atop the engine the king ("GR") attempts to extinguish the fire; over his head flies a dove bearing an olive branch. He is aided by industrious citizens, one of whom, a Scot, is impeded by a malicious fanatic who carts copies of the Monitor and North Briton to feed the fire. In the background a wagon marked "Hermione" bears home the administration's triumphs, money and goods captured from the Spanish vessel Hermione by the English navy.
From the "Temple Coffee House" three men direct their fire hoses not at the conflagration but at the unperturbed king. The faceless character is Earl Temple, Pitt's brother-in-law. The two garret dwellers (i.e. hacks) are probably Wilkes and Rev. Charles Churchill (with the surplice). On the adjacent building, representing the state of England, a slaughterhouse worker and his companions erect a rival sign to the king's, showing four clenched fists and the date "1762" and inscribed "The Patriot Armes" (referring to Pitt's name for his party, "The Patriots"). Two signs, one reading "The Post Office," the other depicting a castle with the words "[N]ew Castle Inn," tumble in ruins from the building. The first sign refers to the fact that Pitt's organ of patronage, the post office, is gone; the second refers to the resignation of Newcastle, a Pitt supporter in the ministry and its nominal Prime Minister. Below these hangs a plaque marked "Norfolk Jig" showing soldiers in line of march and "Airs Com'd by Harrington" satirizing the artificial and mechanical abilities of the Norfold militia trained by George Townshend ("GT Fect").
Below this a naked man holds two money bags in his hand, one labeled "1000," the other "00"; he wears more bags around his waist; behime stand two barrels of produce. The sign reads "Alive From America." A man intended as William Beckford points to it and blows a trumpet to draw attention to the wealth derivable from expoitive colonial adventures. In the right-hand corner is a refugee camp of those who have escaped the fire. The man who fiddles insanely is supposed to represent the king of Prussia. The rest (including the six children) endure suffering and death—two children and one adult have exprired—while they cling to the few goods they have salvaged.
In the opposite corner sits a Dutch merchant watching the chaos and smoking his pipe contentedly. A fox sits beside him.
THE TIMES, PLATE II
This political allegory, suppressed by Hogarth and his widow and published in 1790 after their deaths, is intended as a complement to "The Times," Plate I. Though the motifs of conflict and conflagratoin are replaced by images of order and growth, the print is shot through with pessimism about political matters. In the center of the print on a man-made island isolating him from both Parliament and citizenry, a statue of George III wearing a saintly, boyish countenance stand above the scene on a pedestal. The carpenter's plumbing board and the angularity of the statue suggest the probity of George's rule and satirize the aesthetic method of "A Ramsey delt." A gardener identified as Lord Bute mans a pump controlling the flow of water. The water, representing royal favor, is distributed through symbols of class privelege to shrubs which sit flatteringly around the statue. These represent court favorites and sinecure holders, many of whom have recently changed their allegiance hastily from "James III" (blacked out) to "George III."
A flourishing evergreen marked "Culloden" represents the Duke of Cumberland who defeated the Scots at the battle of that name; his relentless pursuit of the rebels earned him the title "the butcher." A dog with the word "Mercy" inscribed on its collar barks at the bush. Out of favor, the plant wearing a hat shaped like a fox (Henry Fox) dumps clipped shrubs—former court favorites—into the moat. His pace is impeded by a roller marked "1000000000£" representing the national debt.
On the left sits Parliament, presided over by speaker Sir John Cust; members in one section sleep or chat while those in the other section shoot at the dove of peace. The figure with the longest gun and the gouty leg is Pitt. In the background stand the ridiculous Chinese Pagoda from Kew Garden and a "Hospital." Another is under construction. To the right is St. Mary-le-Strand and, partially blocking it, the home of the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts. The Society's members are hoisting up a palette marked "Premium," a reference to their custom of offering prizes to promising young artists, a practice opposed as misleading by Hogarth.
Only a sprinkle of royal favor falls on the populace. None reaches the maimed veterans who stand on a bridge to the royal presence; a barrier prevents them from either seeing or visiting the king. Two veterans receive a blessing from "Dr. Cants ye man Midwife" who is believed to be the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Secker.
In the pillory is "Ms Fanny," a notorious "ghost" of the period; her candle ignites Wilkes' newspaper, the North Briton. Wilkes' empty pockets are turned out to reveal his lack of money. A maid shakes her mop over his head, and a boy urinates on his foot. Below him sit two musicians, a sweep and man with a purse. From a barrel with Wilkes' initials ("IW"), a gin seller draws liquor.