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perhaps, next to Shakspeare, the most inventive genius which This island has produced, into the “amiable pursuit of beautiful nature,” i. e., copying ad infinitum the individual charms and graces of Mrs. H
“ Hogarth's method of exposing meanness, deformity, and vice, paddling in whatever is ridiculous, faulty, and vicious."
A person unacquainted with the works thus stigmatized, would be apt to imagine that in Hogarth there was nothing else to be found but subjects of the coarsest and most repulsive nature. That his imagination was naturally unsweet, and that he delighted in raking into every species of moral filth. That he preyed upon sore places only, and took a pleasure in exposing the unsound and rotten parts of human nature; whereas, with the exception of some of the plates of the Harlot's Progress, which are harder in their character than any of the rest of his productions, (the stages of Cruelty I omit as mere worthless caricaturas, foreign to his general habits, the offspring of his fancy in some wayward humour,) there is scarce one or his pieces where vice is most strongly satirised, in which some figure is not introduced upon which the moral eye may rest satisfied; a face that indicates goodness, or perhaps mere goodhumouredness and carelessness of mind (negation of evil) only, yet enough to give a relaxation to the frowning brow of satire, and keep the general air from tainting. Take the mild, supplicating posture of patient Poverty in the poor woman that is persuading the pawnbroker to accept her clothes in pledge, in the plate of Gin Lane, for an instance. A little does it, a little of the good of nature overpowers a world of bad. One cordial, honest laugh of a Tom Jones absolutely clears the atmosphere that was reeking with the black, putrifying breathings of a hypocrite Blifil. One homely, expostulating shrug from Strap warms the whole air which the suggestions of a gentlemanly ingratitude from his friend Random had begun to freeze. One “ Lord bless us !” of Parson Adams upon the wickedness of the times exorcises and purges of the mass of iniquity which the world-knowledge of even a Fielding could call out and rake together. But of the severer class of Hogarth's performances, enough, I trust, has been said to show that they do not merely shock and repulse; that there is in them the “scorn of vice” and the “pity” too; something to touch the heart, and keep alive the sense of moral beauty ; the “ lacrymæ rerum,” and the sorrowing by which the heart is made better. If they be bad things, then is satire and tragedy a bad thing ; let us proclaim at once an age of gold, and sink the existence of vice and misery in our speculations : let us
“ Wink and shut our apprehensions up
let us make believe with the children that everybody is goud and happy ; and, with Dr. Swift, write panegyrics upon the world.
But that larger half of Hogarth's works which were painted more for entertainment than instruction, (though such was the suggestiveness of his mind, that there is always something to be learned from them,) his humorous scenes, are they such as merely to disgust and set us against our species?
The confident assertions of such a man as I consider the late Mr. Barry to have been, have that weight of authority in them which staggers, at first hearing, even a long preconceived opinion. When I read his pathetic admonition concerning the shortness of life, and how much better the little leisure of it were laid out upon " that species of art which is employed about the amiable and the admirable ;" and Hogarth's "method” proscribed as a “ dangerous or worthless pursuit,” I began to think there was something in it; that I might have been in. dulging all my life in a passion for the works of this artist, to the utter prejudice of my taste and moral sense ; but my first convictions gradually returned ; a world of good-natured Eng lish faces, came up one by one to my recollection, and a glance at the matchless Election Entertainment, which I have the happiness to have hanging up in my parlour, subverted Mr Barry's whole theory in an instant.
In that inimitable print, (which in my judgment as far exceeds the more known and celebrated March to Finchley as the best comedy exceeds the best farce that ever was written,) let : person look till he be saturated, and when he is done wonder ing at the inventiveness of genius which could bring so many characters (more than thirty distinct classes of face) into a room, and set them down at table together, or otherwise dispose them about, in so natural a manner, engage them in so many easy sets and occupations, yet all partaking of the spirit of the oc casion which brought them together, so that we feel that no thing but an election time could have assembled them ; having ro central figure or principal group, (for the hero of the piece, the candidate, is properly set aside in the levelling indistinction of the day, one must look for him to find him,) nothing to detain the eye from passing from part to part, where every part is alike instinct with life, for here are no furniture-faces, no figures brought in to fill up the scene, like stage-choruses, but all dramatis personæ; when he shall have done wondering at all these faces so strongly charactered, yet finished with the accuracy of the finest miniature ; when he shall have done
admiring the numberless appendages of the scene, those gra tuitous doles which rich genius flings into the heap when it has already done enough, the over-measure which it delights in giving, as if it felt its stores were exhaustless; the dumb rhetoric of the scenery- for tables, and chairs, and joint-stools in Hogarth are living and significant things; the witticisms that are expressed by words, (all artists but Hogarth have failed when they have endeavoured to combine two mediums of expression, and have introduced words into their pictures,) and the unwritten numberless little allusive pleasantries that are scattered about ; the work that is going on in the scene, and beyond it, as is made visible to the "eye of mind,” by the mob which chokes
up the doorway, and the sword that has forced an entrance before its master : when he shall have sufficiently admired this wealth of genius, let him fairly say what is the result left on his mind. Is it an impression of the vileness and worthlessness of his species ? or is not the general feeling
which remains, after the individual faces have ceased to act sensibly on his mind, a kindly one in favour of his species ? was not the general air of the scene wholesome ? did it do the heart hurt to be among it? Something of a riotous spirit, to be sure is there ; some worldly-mindedness in some of the faces; a Doddingtonian smoothness which does not promise any superfluous degree of sincerity in the fine gentleman who has been the occasion of calling so much good company together: but is not the general cast of expression in the faces of the good sort? do they not seem cut out of the good old rock, substantial English honesty ? would one fear treachery among characters of their expression ? or shall we call their honest mirth and seldom-returning relaxation by the hard names of vice and profligacy? That poor country fellow, that is grasping his staff, (which, from that difficulty of feeling themselves at home which poor men experience at a feast, he has never parted with since he came into the room,) and is enjoying with a relish that seems to fit all the capacities of his soul the slender joke which that facetious wag his neighbour is practising upon the gouty gentleman, whose eyes the effort to suppress pain has made as round as rings-does it shock the “ dignity of human nature” to look at that man, and to sympathize with him in the seldom-heard joke which has unbent his care-worn, hard-working visage, and drawn iron smiles from it? or with that fullhearted cobbler, who is honouring with the grasp of an honest fist the unused palm of that annoyed patrician, whom the license of the time has seated next him.
I can see nothing “ dangerous" in the contemplation of such seenes as this, or the Enraged Musician, or the Southwark
Fair, or twenty other pleasant prints which come crowding in upon my recollection, in which the restless activities, the diversified bents and humours, the blameless peculiarities of men, as they deserve to be called, rather than their “vices and follies,” are held up in a laughable point of view. All laughter is not of a dangerous or soul-hardening tendency. There is the petrifying sneer of a demon which excludes and kills love, and there is the cordial laughter of a man which implies and cherishes it. What heart was ever made the worse by joining in a hearty laugh at the simplicities of Sir Hugh Evans or Parson Adams, where a sense of the ridiculous mutually kindles and is kindled by a perception of the amiable? That tumultuous harmony of singers that are roaring out the words, “ The world shall bow to the Assyrian throne," from the opera of Judith, in the third plate of the series, called the Four Groups of Heads; which the quick eye of Hogarth must have struck off in the very infancy of the rage for sacred oratorios in this country, while “ Music yet was young;" when we have done smiling at the deafening distortions which these tearers of devotion to rags and tatters, these takers of Heaven by storm, in their boisterous mimicry of the occupation of angels, are making-what unkindly impression is left behind, or what more of harsh or contemptuous feeling, than when we quietly leave Uncle Toby and Mr. Shandy riding their hobbyhorses about the room? The conceited, long-backed sign-painter, that with all the self-applause of a Raffaelle or Correggio (the twist of body which his conceit has thrown him into has something of the Correggeisque in it) is contemplating the picture of a bottle which he is drawing from an actual botile that hangs beside him, in the print of Beer-street—while we smile at the enormity of the self-delusion, can we help loving the good-humour and self-complacency of the fellow? would we willingly wake him from his dream ?
I say not that all the ridiculous subjects of Hogarth have necessarily something in them to make us like them: some are indifferent to us, some in their natures repulsive, and only made interesting by the wondersul skill and truth to nature in the painter; but I contend that there is in most of them that sprinkling of the better nature, which, like holy water, chases away and disperses the contagion of the bad. They have this in them besides, that they bring us acquainted with the everyday human face-they give us skill to detect those gradations of sense and virtue (which escape the careless or fastidious observer) in the countenances of the world about us; and prevent that disgust at common life, that tedium quotidianarum
ON THE POETICAL WORKS OF GEORGE WITHER.
formarum, which an unrestricted passion for ideal forms and beauties is in danger of producing. In this, as in many other things, they are analogous to the best novels of Smollett or Fielding.
ON THE POETICAL WORKS OF GEORGE WITHER.
The poems of G. Wither are distinguished by a hearty homeliness of manner, and a plain moral speaking. He seems to have passed his life in one continued act of an innocent self-pleasing. That which he calls his Motto is a continued self-eulogy of two thousand lines, yet we read it to the end without any feeling of distaste, almost without a consciousness that we have been listening all the while to a man praising himself. There are none of the cold particles in it, the hardness and self-ends which render vanity and egotism hateful. He seems to be praising another person, under the mask of self: or rather we feel that it was indifferent to him where he found the virtue which he celebrates; whether another's bosom, or his own, were its chosen receptacle. His poems are full, and this in particular is one downright confession, of a generous self-seeking. But by self he sometimes means a great deal-his friends, his principles, his country, the human
Whoever expects to find in the satirical pieces of this writer any of those peculiarities which pleased him in the satires of Dryden or Pope, will be grievously disappointed. Here are no high-finished characters, no nice traits of individual nature, few or no personalities. The game run down is coarse general vice, or folly as it appears in classes. A liar, a drunkard, a coxcomb, is stripped and whipped; no Shaftesbury, no Villiers, or Wharton is curiously anatomized and
But to a well-natured mind there is a charm of moral sensibility running through them which amply compensates the want of those luxuries. Wither seems everywhere bursting with a love of goodness, and a hatred of all low and base actions. At this day it is hard to discover what parts in the poem here particularly alluded to, Abuses Stripped and Whipped, could have occasioned the imprisonment of the author. Was vice in high places more suspicious than now? had she more power ; or more leisure to listen after ill reports ? That a man should be convicted of a libel when he