Life Of Hogarth
( Originally Published 1902 )
WILLIAM HOGARTH, or Hogarth--painter, engraver, and satirist--was born in Bartholomew Close, London, on the 10th of November, 1697, and was baptized in the neighbouring church of St. Bartholomew, where the record is still preserved. His father, Richard Hogarth, was descended from a good north-country yeoman family, and was a schoolmaster in Westmoreland before removing to the metropolis. After settling in London he kept a small school in Ship Court, Old Bailey, and seems afterwards to have followed the calling of a corrector to the press.
At a very early age William, his first child, showed a more than ordinary aptitude for drawing, and possessed the power, so famously developed in the course of his career, of grasping with almost instantaneous fidelity the varying expressions of the human countenance. He himself testifies to the ease with which he limned the faces of his juvenile companions, and relates his affection for the pastime of drawing which he afterwards elevated to a profession. An anecdote characteristic of his genius in this respect relates how he instantly produced the contorted expression of a tavern-brawler, whom he had seen struck upon the head with a pewter. His father wisely allowed the boy to follow the bent of his inclination, and he was apprenticed to Mr. Ellis Gamble, who carried on the business of a silver-plate engraver in Cranbourne Street, Leicester Fields, the neighbourhood afterwards destined to be associated with Hogarth's life and work for many years. Here the young apprentice began his actual labours, and one of his first attempts survives in a small engraving of Ellis Gamble's business card. Subsequently he used his skill upon copperplates, which were afterwards the favourite medium for his burin.
On the termination of his apprenticeship Hogarth set up in business for himself. An early plate is that of his own trade-card, bearing the legend, " W. Hogarth, Engraver," and the date, April 23, 1720. For the first few years his work seems to have been confined to drawing and engraving bill-heads, cards, and such-like, with occasional plates of a satirical character. He then applied himself to designing frontispieces and illustrations for books. Among the most successful of his works at this period is the small series of illustrations to Butler's " Hudibras," published in 1726. Masquerades and Operas, an early piece of satire, belongs to the same time, Shortly afterwards an event occurred, simple in itself, which had a considerable influence in determining the material character of much of his subsequent work, inasmuch as it introduced him to oil-painting. This was the opening of a school of art in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden, under the direction of Sir James Thorn-hill, who had the young engraver for one of his first pupils. From this time onward Hogarth produced many of his best pictures in oils ; these were afterwards engraved, for the most part by his own hand. Therefore, in estimating his total output, it must be remembered that in addition to a great number of separate prints, he executed plates for nearly all the subjects from his brush.
The art school was not the only, and apparently not the chief attraction for the painter in connection with Sir James Thornhill, for in 1729 Hogarth ran away with that gentleman's only daughter, whom he married at the cost of her father's disapproval and estrangement. The young couple lived for some time in South Lambeth, where the painter became acquainted with Jonathan Tyers, owner of the then famous Vauxhall Gardens. Jonathan Tyers appears to have encouraged him both morally and materially, and to have given him several commissions, including the designing and engraving of "passes" to the entertainments in the Gardens. Hogarth himself received from Tyers, by way of partial recognition of his services, a gold pass giving perpetual admission to the holder and his friends. Among his productions about this time are Rich's Glory, a picture representing the triumphal progress of the actor across the piazza at Covent Garden ; The Man of Taste, in which Pope and Kent the architect are severely handled ; Henry VIII. and Anne Boleyn, a not very successful attempt at history painting ; The Beggar's Opera Burlesqued, etc.
In 1732 Hogarth set out with four companions for a pleasure trip to the Isle of Sheppey. One of the party, Ebenezer Forrest, drew up an account of the journey and its adventures, to which Hogarth supplied illustrations. This unique MS. is preserved in the British Museum. The following year witnessed the painter's removal to a house in Leicester Fields, since demolished. Here, "at the sign of the Golden Head," he remained for many years, save for occasional brief residence at Chiswick and other places.
Hogarth's genius for satire, and his graphic power in the portrayal of life's unpleasant side, found expression about this time in the series of six paintings describing The Harlot's Progress. The introduction of thinly-disguised characters from real life into his pictures was a weapon which the painter could use with skill and effect, and in this series he gave rein to his desire that some of the less moral personages of his time should find a pillory at the hands of art. According to Nichols, a great many of the characters in subsequent works were likewise portraits of more or less well-known persons. In the first scene of The Harlot's Progress, " Moll Hackabout " is lured by an evil woman, with resultant effects upon her character made manifest in Scene II., where she kicks over a tea-table in the presence of an astonished admirer. The third picture presents her ruined and impoverished; in the fourth, she suffers ridicule and cruelty at the Bridewell prison. Scene V. introduces two notorious quacks of the day, who quarrel as to the merits of their rival nostrums at the very moment when merciful death releases the poor creature: The last picture of the series is that of her funeral, and this was probably the most powerful and best of all. Here her colleagues in misfortune gather about the body with vociferous show of grief, while the dead woman's little son, draped in deep mourning after the fashion of the time, sits by his mother's coffin and calmly winds his top—" the only thing in that assembly," says Lamb, " that is not a hypocrite."
The publication of this series, besides stimulating broadsheets, sketches, and even a panto-mime at Drury Lane, was followed by several imitative sets of plates from the hands of not over-scrupulous engravers. Hogarth made strenuous efforts to protect his interests in the copyright of his own creations, but the endeavour was for the time unsuccessful. 'This series, whether because of the particular attractiveness of its subject for the popular mind, was far more successful than its companion series, The Rake's Progress, a more meritorious work, both in grouping and detail. The qualities of the painting cannot now be compared in the two series, as, with the exception of one picture, the originals of the first series were unfortunately destroyed by fire at Fonthill in 1755.
The pictures of The Rake's Progress, eight in number, were engraved and published in 1735, the Copyright Act having meanwhile secured to their author the protection denied to his earlier series. In the interval between the two " Progresses " Hogarth painted Southwark Fair, a crowded and animated piece of work ; the bacchanalian Midnight Modern Coversation, The Laughing Audience, and several others.
The first scene of The Rake's Progress forms one of the illustrations to this sketch of Hogarth's. life, and is described in detail on p. 43. Generally it may be said that the minute analysis of the scene and the occasion, presented in the details of that picture, is characteristic of the whole set, which therefore need only be mentioned in outline. Tom Rakewell, the ill-starred hero of the piece, is seen in the second picture holding a crowded levée of attendant servitors—a dancing-master, a tailor, a prize-fighter, a fiddler, a horn-blower, and other aids to his sense of spendthrift enjoyment. Scene III. surrounds him with low female acquaintances and hints at details and practices which need not be specified. It is a gross, but clever piece of imaginative grouping. In Scene IV. the Rake is arrested for debt while alighting from a sedan-chair, his release being secured only by the intervention of his deserted sweet-heart, whose affection prompts her to give her small savings as the price of his liberty. In this picture Hogarth aims a literal shaft, of lightning, at White's Cocoa House, a notorious rendezvous of gamesters in St. James's Street, and presents the alternative attraction of " Black's "—a group of urchins gambling with cards on the sidewalk. The fifth picture describes the marriage of necessity whereby the Rake is united to an ill-favoured, elderly partner. All the characters—the bridegroom inconstant in his glance, the group of squabbling women, the non-spiritual parson—satirize the worldly matrimony of the time. Here, too, are deft touches of Hogarth's trenchant humour. The Commandments upon the wall are cracked and the Creed nearly obliterated. Cobwebs cover the poor-box. Scene VI. is filled with animated excitement. Ruined or successful gamesters form groups about the tables ; among the former is the Rake, who fills the air with agonized curses. Repentant players give vent to their grief, and victors divide and discuss the spoil. To crown all, a watchman rushes in to call attention to the flames that break through the wall of the apartment. In the next picture Tom Rakewell is in a debtors' prison, surrounded by every circumstance of ignoble misery. His wife shouts reproaches into his ear, and the devoted object of his earlier affection, who visits him in this dark hour of his fortunes, faints in the agony of her distress. The culmination is reached in the eighth scene. The Rake is now a violent maniac, and lies dying on a madhouse floor. Surrounding him are types of mental imbecility—a mad astronomer peering through a paper telescope, a fiddler with his book upon his head, a demented tailor, religious devotees, and others, making up a group at once awful and grotesque. By way of contrast two ladies inspect the scene as though it were a show place, while the poor girl who has so faithfully followed the Rake in his fortunes is with him at the end.
The eight pictures of The Rake's Progress sold for 22 guineas each. They are now in Sir John Soane's museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields. If they did not by themselves attain the popularity of the former series, they at any rate shared an abundance of praise from many quarters. Fielding the novelist claimed in his exuberant admiration that these works were " calculated more to serve the Cause of Virtue, and for the Preservation of Mankind, than all the Folios of Morality which have ever been written " !
Sir James Thornhill died in 1734, having happily become reconciled to his son-in-law through his high opinion of his works, of which a set of plates had been sent him by the painter's wife. At his death the drawing-school passed to Hogarth, who directed its fortunes for many years. It was about this time that he painted the two large frescoes on the staircase-wall at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, The Good Samaritan and The Pool of Bethesda. They offered a new field for his brush, both in subject and execution, and in neither respect can they be regarded as satisfactory. The production of prints was his chief work during the next few years, among the more notable being Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn, the original of which was destroyed by fire, The Enraged Musician, The Distressed Poet, and Four Times of the Day, a set of plates originally designed for Tyers at Vauxhall.
Hogarth next presents himself in the light of a practical philanthropist, in connection with the Foundling Hospital. Towards its benevolent creator, Captain Coram, he always entertained a warm regard, and he was elected one of the Governors of the institution, which he generously aided by his art and by money. To Hogarth was largely due the establishment of the picture-gallery which at that time made the Foundling a rendezvous for lovers of the fine arts. Among his own contributions to that collection is the Biblical painting, Moses brought before Pharaoh's Daughter, and two others, of which illustrations are given in this sketch, The March to Finchley and the portrait of Captain Coram. A detailed description of these will be found elsewhere ; it suffices here to say that Hogarth regarded the latter as his most successful piece of portraiture, and this verdict has been very generally endorsed. Among other works done at this period are the series of illustrations to Don Quixote, portraits of Martin Folkes and Bishop Hoadly of Winchester, and Taste in High Life, a satire executed in gratification of a lady's vengeful wish.
The next important work was the famous series of paintings entitled Marriage à-la-mode, now in the National Gallery. By common con-sent they constitute Hogarth's masterpiece, in respect not only of conception, but in excellence of grouping, in the subtle suggestiveness of their details, subdued colouring, and directness of treatment. The story is a too ordinary one of sordid life and matrimonial dissension ; it is in the manner of its telling that Hogarth's brush clothes each scene with an interest of its own. In the first picture the marriage contract is pre-pared with legal formality. The scene savours wholly of worldly considerations, to the exclusion of any indication of natural affection. Lawyers possess the foremost interest, and the young couple themselves find attraction anywhere save in mutual contemplation. Scene II. is perhaps the finest of the series. It portrays vividly an incident of domestic infelicity, and is full of de-tail that rewards the closest study. (See illustration and description.) In the third picture Hogarth introduces a deviation from the strict sequence of events. The scene presents a young girl, presumably an object of the husband's affection, who visits a quack doctor in the company of her admirer. The room boasts a skull, a mummified body, retorts, a crocodile-skin, and various other stimuli of faith in the practitioner. The fourth picture re-introduces the countess, for to such rank Hogarth elevates his ill-wedded pair. The lady holds court in her richly decorated dressing-room. Cards are strewn about the floor; questionable taste adorns the walls. With one exception her guests are men, who strive at the making of music for the lady's entertainment, she meanwhile submitting her tresses for adornment by a servant. The scene abounds in significant details. In the next picture comedy gives place to the height of tragedy. The earl returns to find his spouse in the company of another. In the ensuing quarrel he is pierced by the sword of his opponent, who climbs through the window of the room. The alarmed Watch enters, only to witness the dying man's fall in the presence of his now-agonized wife. It has been held that in his delineation of the swooning figure, Hogarth produced a naturalness of attitude not equalled in any other of his characters. The last scene brings death to the countess also, self-inflicted by poison. The empty phial lies with the "last dying speech and confession " of her husband's murderer, thus indicating his fate. An elderly nurse holds up the child to embrace his dead mother, while her father, from motives of avarice, draws the ring from her finger. An enraged apothecary, whose medicine labels proclaim his errand, shakes the stupid-looking servant for chagrin at a lost client, and a starving dog, unnoticed in the general excitement, purloins a meal from the table. Through the open window is a view of the river, showing old London Bridge.
Marriage à-la-mode was offered for sale in 1745, but for several years the pictures failed to find a purchaser. Even then they passed into the possession of Mr. Lane, of Hillingdon, for the comparatively paltry sum of 120 guineas, in default of any other bidder having attended their auction at the " Golden Head." Before the close of the century, Mr. Angerstein gave nearly £1,400 for the same set, which were afterwards acquired for the nation with others of that gentleman's collection. From the first there was no doubt as to the popular estimation of the series.- Marriage d-la-mode became the theme of itinerant ballad-singers and verse-makers. It formed the subject of novels and plays, and was alluded to in dramatic prologues. So cordial was its reception that Hogarth pro-posed to himself a companion set, The Happy Marriage. This project was abandoned, al-though one of the suggested subjects, "The Dance," appeared as an engraving in the painter's literary attempt, "The Analysis of Beauty." A word must be said concerning this, Hogarth's only work of literary composition. In the National Gallery portrait of himself (see frontispiece) a curved line will be noticed running across the palette, and underneath it the inscription, " The line of Beauty and Grace." It was not until some time after the picture was first exhibited that the riddle of these words was solved by the publication of the " Analysis," an ingenious attempt to resolve all beauty of form into variants of this same curve. The book received praise in many quarters, and abstract points of its theory were generally supported, but it has never been regarded as a contribution of value to the subject of which it treated. In its preparation Hogarth was assisted from time to time by several friends, notably by Dr. Benjamin Hoadly, whose advice he sought on points connected with anatomy. Two engraved plates of a recondite character illustrated the work.
Meanwhile the painter was busy upon fresh works, and produced in rapid succession a number of portraits, including Garrick as Richard III., and Simon, Lord Lovat. Among his subject-pictures about this time were The Stage Coach and the well-known series of engravings entitled Industry and Idleness. In these pictures Hogarth traces the respective careers of a dissolute and a painstaking apprentice. Step by step the two men work out their destinies—Tyburn for the one, and for the other the civic grandeur of the Lord Mayor's position. This last print affords an excellent idea of the November pageant of Hogarth's time.
An unpleasant experience in France stimulated the painting of Calais Gate, or the Roast Beef of Old England, now in the National Gallery. Hogarth had undertaken a trip across the channel, and was in the act of sketching the old gate at Calais (he may be observed doing so in the picture) when he was arrested as a spy. After being subjected to some inconvenience, not lessened, we may be sure, by his aggressively Saxon temperament, he was put on board ship and returned ignominiously to his native land. There is thus no small amount of outraged feeling in his treatment of the subject, especially in the ridicule heaped upon the attenuated forms of the French soldiery. Similar distaste for our nearest neighbour appears in the two contrasted prints of The Invasion, engraved some years later.
It would be impossible to do justice in a short summary to the number and variety of the paintings and prints which Hogarth's genius created in these, the best years of his life. To mention only a few of the better-known works, these include the favourite March to Finchley ; Beer Street and Gin Lane, two pictures illustrative of the drink-evil, but far overdone in their horrible directness. Similarly The Four Stages of Cruelty, intended to produce loathing of man's inhumanity, must have been " strong meat " even for the not over-sensitive public of the painter's day. The Election series now in the Soane Museum, the capital print of The Bench, a graphic delineation of sport in The Cock-Pit, and numerous small engravings, all testify to Hogarth's sustained industry.
The post of Sergeant Painter t0 His Majesty was conferred upon him in 1757, in succession to his brother-in-law, John Thornhill, who re-signed in his favour. The salary belonging to the office was a small one, but the honour of the appointment was a source of much gratification to Hogarth personally. His next painting of note was the much-discussed Sigismunda, about the merits of which critics differed and still differ. It was perhaps an allowable ambition on Hogarth's part that he should strive to produce a picture in the "grand manner" of earlier masters; but having regard to the nature of nearly all his previous work, it is not wonderful that the sentimentality of the weeping lady was less successful in the result. Painted by commission for Sir Richard Grosvenor, the canvas was afterwards repudiated by its patron and was left upon the artist's hands. Added to this, the painter was subjected, at the hands of the critics, to a condemnation which exceeded all the limits of fair comment. Sigismunda is by no means a great picture, and has never tended to extend Hogarth's reputation, but it at least possesses qualities which place it a good deal higher than the position assigned it by the criticism of the day—for an example of which note Churchill's reference to the hapless victim of a dauber's hand." The painting was always a favourite with Hogarth himself, and the curious may test its merits for themselves by a visit to the National Gallery.
The painter's best days were now over. But a few years of life remained to him, and during that time he produced nothing approaching in originality and merit the work of his prime. He was, however, by no means idle during this period, quite a large number of works, mainly engravings, constituting his output from 1760 to 1764. These last display a bitterness of satire greater than anything to be found in his earlier productions. The plate entitled Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticism was designed to heap ridicule upon the sham-piety and hypocrisy with which religion was largely infected, but it must be confessed that in treating the subject Hogarth succeeded only in producing a coarse thrust at religion itself. His political and personal dislikes were equally subjects of his satirical lash. The Times, of which he published only the first plate, was intended as a pictorial satire of contemporary politics and life. His quarrel with Wilkes and Churchill the poet led to his producing cartoon-portraits of those worthies by way of revenge. In the former picture Wilkes, whose likeness is closely reproduced, save for the exaggeration given to a slight obliquity of vision, bears aloft a huge " cap of liberty," while at his elbow are his " North Briton " and other papers advocating the Wilkes party and its cause. The picture of Charles Churchill, the " Bruiser," is merely the adaptation of a copper-plate which had originally borne portraits of Hogarth and his dog, reproducing in fact the frontispiece to this volume. Hogarth obliterated his own likeness and substituted a bear, with torn ruffles and foaming tankard, adding here and there coarse details by way of supplement.
The picture was an ill-natured retort upon attacks previously directed against his own character.
Shortly before his death Hogarth executed an engraving which became, appropriately enough, the last work to be published in his lifetime. This was the plate entitled Finis; or the Bathos, designed to form a pictorial exeunt to all the works of his previous years. The picture typifies the end of all things. Time, leaning against a fragmentary column, sends forth his expiring breath, the scythe and hour-glass lying shattered by his side. A medley of broken weapons and utensils are around ; a cracked bell and palette, a gun-stock, the stump of a broom, and the falling signboard of " The World's End." The Times (his own engraving) falls victim to a candle-end ; a ship sinks ; a play-book bears the words " exeunt omnes "; the church-tower is in ruins ; a dead Apollo lies prone in his chariot ; the clock is without hands ; the moon is in eclipse ; all is finished.
All was indeed finished. For a few months Hogarth retouched his plates, and was working on that of The Bench on the day previous to his death ; but he produced no further picture. On October 25, 1764, he was taken from Chiswick to his house in Leicester Fields, ill and weak, but, we are told, in good spirits. A sudden fit of vomiting seized him shortly after going to bed, and in a few hours he died.
Hogarth was buried in the churchyard at Chiswick, the suburb where his house still stands, together with the mulberry tree from which he often entertained the children about his gates. The old mansion was lately threatened with demolition, and an unsuccessful attempt was made to secure it by means of public subscription. Happily its purchaser, Lieut.-Col. Shipway, has announced his intention of preserving the historic dwelling and its associations, for which decision all lovers of Hogarth's genius will accord him their gratitude.
Garrick's epitaph, engraved on the painter's tomb, may fittingly conclude this outline of his career :
" Farewell, great Painter of Mankind !
" If genius fire thee, Reader, stay ;