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ON THE GENIUS AND CHARACTER OF HOGARTH;
WITH SOME REMARKS ON A PASSAGE IN THE WRITINGS OF THE LATE MR. BARRY.
One of the earliest and noblest enjoy- | riot and extravagance, ending in the one with ments I had when a boy, was in the contem- driving the Prodigal from the society of men plation of those capital prints by Hogarth, into the solitude of the deserts, and in the the Harlot's and Rake's Progresses, which, other with conducting the Rake through his along with some others, hung upon the walls several stages of dissipation into the still of a great hall in an old-fashioned house in more complete desolations of the mad-house, -shire, and seemed the solitary tenants in the play and in the picture, are described (with myself) of that antiquated and life- with almost equal force and nature. The deserted apartment.
levee of the Rake, which forms the subject Recollection of the manner in which those of the second plate in the series, is almost a prints used to affect me has often made me transcript of Timon's levee in the opening wonder, when I have heard Hogarth de- scene of that play. We find a dedicating scribed as a mere comic painter, as one of poet, and other similar characters, in both. those whose chief ambition was to raise a The concluding scene in the Rake's Progress laugh. To deny that there are throughout is perhaps superior to the last scenes of the prints which I have mentioned circum- Timon. If we seek for something of kindred stances introduced of a laughable tendency, excellence in poetry, it must be in the scenes would be to run counter to the common of Lear's beginning madness, where the King notions of mankind ; but to suppose that in and the Fool and the Tom-o'-Bedlam conspire their ruling character they appeal chiefly to to produce such a medley of mirth checked the risible faculty, and not first and foremost by misery, and misery rebuked by mirth; to the very heart of man, its best and most where the society of those “strange bedserious feelings, would be to mistake no less fellows” which misfortunes have brought grossly their aim and purpose. A set of severer Lear acquainted with, so finely sets forth the Satires (for they are not so much Comedies, destitute state of the monarch ; while the which they have been likened to, as they are lunatic bans of the one, and the disjointed strong and masculine Satires) less mingled sayings and wild but pregnant allusions of with anything of mere fun, were never the other, so wonderfully sympathise with written upon paper, or graven upon copper. that confusion, which they seem to assist in They resemble Juvenal, or the satiric touches the production of, in the senses of that in Timon of Athens.
“child-changed father.” I was pleased with the reply of a gentleman, In the scene in Bedlam, which terminates who being asked which book he esteemed the Rake's Progress, we find the same assortmost in his library, answered, — “Shak- ment of the ludicrous with the terrible. speare :" being asked which he esteemed Here is desperate madness, the overturning next best, replied, “Hogarth.” His graphic of originally strong thinking faculties, at representations are indeed books: they have which we shudder, as we contemplate the the teeming, fruitful, suggestive meaning of duration and pressure of affliction which it words. Other pictures we look at,-his must have asked to destroy such a building ; prints we read.
—and here is the gradual hurtless lapse into In pursuance of this parallel, I have some- idiocy, of faculties, which at their best of times entertained myself with comparing the times never having been strong, we look Timon of Athens of Shakspeare (which I upon the consummation of their decay with have just mentioned) and Hogarth's Rake's no more of pity than is consistent with a Progress together. The story, the moral, in smile. The mad tailor, the poor driveller both is nearly the same. The wild course of that has gone out of his wits (and truly he
appears to have had no great journey to go finest representation of a virtuous death-bed to get past their confines) for the love of surrounded by real mourners, pious children, Charming Betty Careless,—these half-laugh- weeping friends,-perhaps more by the very able, scarce-pitiable objects, take off from the contrast. What reflections does it not awake, horror which the principal figure would of of the dreadful heartless state in which the itself raise, at the same time that they assist creature (a female too) must have lived, who the feeling of the scene by contributing to in death wants the accompaniment of one the general notion of its subject :
genuine tear. That wretch who is removing
the lid of the coffin to gaze upon the corpse “ Madness, thou chaos of the brain, What art, that pleasure giv'st and pain ?
with a face which indicates a perfect negation Tyranny of Fancy's reign!
of all goodness or womanhood—the hypocrite Mechanic Fancy, that can build Vast labyrinths and mazes wild,
parson and his demure partner-all the With rule disjointed, shapeless measure, fiendish group—to a thoughtful mind present Fill'd with horror, fill'd with pleasure !
a moral emblem more affecting than if the Shapes of horror, that would even Cast doubts of mercy upon heaven;
poor friendless carcass had been depicted as Shapes of pleasure, that but seen,
thrown out to the woods, where wolves had Would split the shaking sides of Spleen.” .
assisted at its obsequies, itself furnishing Is it carrying the spirit of comparison to forth its own funeral banquet. excess to remark, that in the poor kneeling It is easy to laugh at such incongruities as weeping female who accompanies her seducer are met together in this picture, -incongruous in his sad decay, there is something analogous objects being of the very essence of laughter, to Kent, or Caius, as he delights rather to —but surely the laugh is far different in its be called, in Lear,—the noblest pattern of kind from that thoughtless species to which virtue which even Shakspeare has conceived, we are moved by mere farce and grotesque, —who follows his royal master in banishment, We laugh when Ferdinand Count Fatbom, that had pronounced his banishment, and, at the first sight of the white cliffs of Britain, forgetful at once of his wrongs and dignities, feels his heart yearn with filial fondness taking on himself the disguise of a menial, towards the land of his progenitors, which he retains his fidelity to the figure, his loyalty is coming to fleece and plunder,—we smile to the carcass, the shadow, the shell and at the exquisite irony of the passage,—but if empty husk of Lear?
we are not led on by such passages to some In the perusal of a book, or of a picture, more salutary feeling than laughter, we are much of the impression which we receive very negligent perusers of them in book or depends upon the habit of mind which we picture. bring with us to such perusal. The same It is the fashion with those who cry up circumstance may make one person laugh, the great Historical School in this country, which shall render another very serious; or at the head of which Sir Joshua Reynolds is in the same person the first impression may placed, to exclude Hogarth from that school, be corrected by after-thought. The mis- as an artist of an inferior and vulgar class. employed incongruous characters at the Those persons seem to me to confound the Harlot's Funeral, on a superficial inspection, painting of subjects in common or vulgar provoke to laughter; but when we have life with the being a vulgar artist. The sacrificed the first emotion to levity, a very quantity of thought which Hogarth crowds different frame of mind succeeds, or the into every picture would alone unvulgarise painter has lost half his purpose. I never every subject which he might choose. Let look at that wonderful assemblage of depraved us take the lowest of his subjects, the print beings, who, without a grain of reverence or called Gin Lane. Here is plenty of poverty pity in their perverted minds, are performing and low stuff to disgust upon a superficial the sacred exteriors of duty to the relics of view; and accordingly a cold spectator feels their departed partner in folly, but I am as himself immediately disgusted and repelled. much moyed to sympathy from the very I have seen many turn away from it, not want of it in them, as I should be by the being able to bear it. The same persons
would perhaps have looked with great com+ Lines inscribed under the plate.
placency upon Poussin's celebrated picture
of the Plague at Athens.* Disease and Death subject could only have been conceived by a and bewildering Terror, in Athenian garments, great genius. Shakspeare, in his description are endurable, and come, as the delicate of the painting of the Trojan War, in his critics express it, within the “limits of Tarquin and Lucrece, has introduced a similar pleasurable sensation.” But the scenes of device, where the painter made a part stand their own St. Giles's, delineated by their own for the whole : countryman, are too shocking to think of.
“ For much imaginary work was there, Yet if we could abstract our minds from the
Conceit deceitful, so compact, so kind, fascinating colours of the picture, and forget
That for Achilles' image stood his spear,
Grip'd in an armed hand; himself behind the coarse execution (in some respects) of the Was left unseen, save to the eye of mind: print, intended as it was to be a cheap plate, A hand, a foot, a face, a leg, a head, accessible to the poorer sort of people, for
Stood for the whole to be imagined.” whose instruction it was done, I think we This he well calls imaginary work, where could have no hesitation in conferring the the spectator must meet the artist in his palm of superior genius upon Hogarth, conceptions half way; and it is peculiar to comparing this work of his with Poussin's the confidence of high genius alone to trust picture. There is more of imagination in it so much to spectators or readers. Lesser i —that power which draws all things to one, artists show everything distinct and full, as —which makes things animate and inani- they require an object to be made out to mate, beings with their attributes, subjects, themselves before they can comprehend it. and their accessories, take one colour and When I think of the power displayed in serve to one effect. Everything in the print, this (I will not hesitate to say) sublime to use a vulgar expression, tells. Every part print, it seems to me the extreme narrowness is full of “strange images of death.” It is of system alone, and of that rage for classifiperfectly amazing and astounding to look at. cation, by which, in matters of taste at least, Not only the two prominent figures, the we are perpetually perplexing, instead of woman and the half-dead man, which are as arranging, our ideas, that would make us terrible as anything which Michael Angelo concede to the work of Poussin above ever drew, but everything else in the print, mentioned, and deny to this of Hogarth, the contributes to bewilder and stupify,—the name of a grand serious composition. very houses, as I heard a friend of mine We are for ever deceiving ourselves with express it, tumbling all about in various names and theories. We call one man a directions, seem drunk—seem absolutely reel- great historical painter, because he has taken ing from the effect of that diabolical spirit for his subjects kings or great men, or of frenzy which goes forth over the whole transactions over which time has thrown a composition. To show the poetical and grandeur. We term another the painter of almost prophetical conception in the artist, common life, and set him down in our minds one little circumstance may serve. Not for an artist of an inferior class, without content with the dying and dead figures, reflecting whether the quantity of thought which he has strewed in profusion over the shown by the latter may not much more proper scene of the action, he shows you than level the distinction which their mere what (of a kindred nature) is passing beyond choice of subjects may seem to place between it. Close by the shell, in which, by direction them; or whether, in fact, from that very of the parish beadle, a man is depositing his common life a great artist may not extract wife, is an old wall, which, partaking of the as deep an interest as another man from that universal decay around it, is tumbling to which we are pleased to call history. pieces. Through a gap in this wall are seen I entertain the highest respect for the three figures, which appear to make a part talents and virtues of Reynolds, but I do not in some funeral procession which is passing like that his reputation should overshadow by on the other side of the wall, out of the and stifle the merits of such a man sphere of the composition. This extending Hogarth, nor that to mere names and of the interest beyond the bounds of the classifications we should be content to
sacrifice one of the greatest ornaments of At the late Mr. Hope's, in Cavendish-square. England.
I would ask the most enthusiastic admirer The Boys under Demoniacal Possession of of Reynolds, whether in the countenances of Raphael and Domenichino, by what law of his Staring and Grinning Despair, which he classification are we bound to assign them to has given us for the faces of Ugolino and belong to the great style in painting, and to dying Beaufort, there be anything com- degrade into an inferior ss the Rake of parable to the expression which Hogarth Hogarth when he is the Madman in the has put into the face of his broken-down Bedlam scene? I am sure he is far more rake in the last plate but one of the Rake's impressive than either. It is a face which Progress,* where a letter from the manager no one that has seen can easily forget. There is brought to him to say that his play“ will is the stretch of human suffering to the not do ?” Here all is easy, natural, undis- utmost endurance, severe bodily pain brought torted, but withal what a mass of woe is on by strong mental agony, the frightful here accumulated !--the long history of a obstinate laugh of madness,—yet all so mis-spent life is compressed into the coun- unforced and natural, that those who never tenance as plainly as the series of plates were witness to madness in real life, think before had told it ; here is no attempt at they see nothing but what is familiar to Gorgonian looks, which are to freeze the them in this face. Here are no tricks of beholder-no grinning at the antique bed- distortion, nothing but the natural face of posts—no face-making, or consciousness of agony. This is high tragic painting, and we the presence of spectators in or out of the might as well deny to Shakspeare the picture, but grief kept to a man's self, a face honours of a great tragedian, because he has retiring from notice with the shame which interwoven scenes of mirth with the serious great anguish sometimes brings with it,-a business of his plays, as refuse to Hogarth final leave taken of hope,—the coming on of the same praise for the two concluding vacancy and stupefaction, a beginning scenes of the Rake's Progress, because of the alienation of mind looking like tranquillity. Comic Lunatics * which he has thrown into Here is matter for the mind of the beholder the one, or the Alchymist that he has to feed on for the hour together,-matter to introduced in the other, who is paddling in feed and fertilise the mind. It is too real to the coals of his furnace, keeping alive the admit one thought about the power of the artist who did it. When we compare the grand style in painting, by which he means his choice of
certain Scripture subjects. Hogarth's excursions into expression in subjects which so fairly admit Holy Land were not very numerous, but what he has of comparison, and find the superiority so left us in this kind have at least this merit
, that they clearly to remain with Hogarth, shall the Child Moses before Pharaoh's Daughter, for instance : mere contemptible differe of the scene of which is more than can be said of Sir Joshua Reynolds's it being laid, in the one case, in our Fleet or Repose in Egypt, painted for Macklin's Bible, where for
a Madonna he has substituted a sleepy, insensible, unKing's Bench Prison, and, in the other, in motherly girl, one so little worthy to have been selected the State Prison of Pisa, or the bed-room of as the Mother of the Saviour, that she seems to have a cardinal, 1,-or that the subject of the one mother at all.
neither heart nor feeling to entitle her to become a
But indeed the race of Virgin Mary has never been authenticated, and the other painters seems to have been cut up, root and branch, at is matter of history,--so weigh down the the Reformation. Our artists are too good Protestants
to give life to that admirable commixture of maternal real points of the comparison, as to induce tenderness with reverential awe and wonder approaching us to rank the artist who has chosen the one to worship, with which the Virgin Mothers of L. da scene or subject (though confessedly inferior Vinci and Raphael (themselves by their divine counte
nances inviting men to worship) contemplate the union in that which constitutes the soul of his art) of the two natures in the person of their Heaven-born in a class from which we exclude the better Infant. genius (who has happened to make choice of * " There are of madmen, as there are of tame, the other) with something like disgrace ? *
So apish and fantastic, play with a feather ;
And though 'twould grieve a soul to see God's * The first perhaps in all Hogarth for serious expres.
image That which comes next to it, I think, is the jaded So blemish'd and defac'd, yet do they act morning countenance of the debauchee in the second Such antick and such pretty lunacies, plate of the Marriage Alamode, which lectures on the That, spite of sorrow, they will make you smile. vanity of pleasure as audibly as anything in Ecclesiastes. Others again we have, like angry lions,
† Sir Joshua Reynolds, somewhere in his Lectures, Fierce as wild bulls, untameable as flies." speaks of the presumption of Hogarth in attempting the
All humour'd not alike.
We have here some
flames of vain hope within the very walls of ence, that we do not merely laugh at, we are the prison to which the vanity has conducted led into long trains of reflection by them. him, which have taught the darker lesson of In this respect they resemble the characters extinguished hope to the desponding figure of Chaucer's Pilgrims, which have strokes who is the principal person of the scene. of humour in them enough to designate
It is the force of these kindly admixtures them for the most part as comic, but our which assimilates the scenes of Hogarth and strongest feeling still is wonder at the comof Shakspeare to the drama of real life, prehensiveness of genius which could crowd, where no such thing as pure tragedy is to as poet and painter have done, into one small be found ; but merriment and infelicity, canvas so many diverse yet co-operating ponderous crime and feather-light vanity, materials. like twi-formed births, disagreeing com- The faces of Hogarth have not a mere plexions of one intertexture, perpetually momentary interest, as in caricatures, or unite to show forth motley spectacles to the those grotesque physiognomies which we world. Then it is that the poet or painter sometimes catch a glance of in the street, shows his art, when in the selection of these and, struck with their whimsicality, wish comic adjuncts he chooses such circum- for a pencil and the power to sketch them stances as shall relieve, contrast with, or fall down ; and forget them again as rapidly,into, without forming a violent opposition to but they are permanent abiding ideas. Not his principal object. Who sees not that the the sports of nature, but her necessary Grave-digger in Hamlet, the Fool in Lear, eternal classes. We feel that we cannot part have a kind of correspondency to, and fall in with any of them, lest a link should be with, the subjects which they seem to broken. interrupt : while the comic stuff in Venice It is worthy of observation, that he has Preserved, and the doggrel nonsense of the seldom drawn a mean or insignificant counCook and his poisoning associates in the tenance.* Hogarth's mind was eminently Rollo of Beaumont and Fletcher, are pure, reflective; and, as it has been well observed irrelevant, impertinent discords,—as bad as of Shakspeare, that he has transfused his the quarrelling dog and cat under the table own poetical character into the persons of of the Lord and the Disciples at Emmaus of his drama (they are all more or less poets) Titian ?
Hogarth has impressed a thinking character Not to tire the reader with perpetual upon the persons of his canvas. This remark reference to prints which he may not be must not be taken universally. The exfortunate enough to possess, it may be suffi- quisite idiotism of the little gentleman in cient to remark, that the same tragic cast of the bag and sword beating his drum in the expression and incident, blended in some print of the Enraged Musician, would of instances with a greater alloy of comedy, itself rise up against so sweeping an assercharacterises his other great work, the tion. But I think it will be found to be Marriage Alamode, as well as those less true of the generality of his countenances. elaborate exertions of his genius, the prints The knife-grinder and Jew flute-player in the called Industry and Idleness, the Distrest plate just mentioned, may serve as instances Poet, &c. forming, with the Harlots and instead of a thousand. They have intense Rake's Progresses, the most considerable if thinking faces, though the purpose to which not the largest class of his productions, they are subservient by no means required enough surely to rescue Hogarth from the it; but indeed it seems as if it was painful imputation of being a mere buffoon, or one to Hogarth to contemplate mere vacancy or whose general aim was only to shake the insignificance sides.
There remains a very numerous class of • If there are any of that description, they are in his his performances, the object of which must Strolling Players, a print which has been cried up by
Lord Orford as the richest of his productions, and it may be confessed to be principally comic. But in be, for what I know, in the mere lumber, the properties, all of them will be found something to dis- and dead furniture of the scene, but in living character tinguish them from the droll productions of and expression it is (for Hogarth) lamentably poor and
wanting ; it is perhaps the only one of his performances Bunbury and others. They have this differ- at which we have a right to feel disgusted.