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From 1773 onwards John Howard (1726-90) devoted himself to inspecting prisons and plague hospitals (lazarettos) throughout Britain and Europe. He campaigned tirelessly for the humane treatment of their inmates. His book 'The State of the Prisons' appeared in 1777, published by the radical Joseph Johnson who later on published Wollstonecraft (nos.20,23), and employed Blake (nos.23,25). Howard's progressive views were one sign of the growing pressure for social reform which culminated in the French Revolution of 1789. Romney set out to celebrate Howard's heroism in a large picture, but some of the reformer's concerns and descriptions of gaol conditions find a distinct echo in Blake's work (nos.2,8m,o).

July 1994