This interesting Plate, now exhibited under the title of "Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticism," was originally called "Enthusiasm Delineated;" and the history of it is so remarkable that it becomes necessary to describe it both in its original and present state; Hogarth having taken the very extraordinary pains of effacing nearly the whole of his first thoughts, and engraving "The Medley" on the copper thus become vacant. The First Plate, however, was not published by our Artist; and only two copies of it were found after his death; one of which was purchased from Mr. John Ireland, by George Baker, Esq. for £.15. 7s. 6d; the other by the Duke of Roxburgh for a much larger sum. On the margin of the two original impressions were slight pen and ink sketches of a Monk as a Windmill, the Hopper of a Mill, &c.
Hogarth's first intention was, "to give a lineal representation of the strange effects resulting from literal and low conceptions of Sacred Beings." To exemplify this, he parodied the productions of several eminent Masters; whose works, having been generally painted under the direction of Cardinals, Popes, &c. are chiefly on Religious subjects, and, by the Artists' absurdly attempting to represent what are not properly objects of sight, that which they intended to be sublime is rendered in the highest degree ridiculous. To burlesque the idolatrous symbols with which they have peopled their canvas, to place the doctrine of Transubstantiation in its true point of view, to unmask hypocrisy, and check the progress of those enthusiastic delusions which Bishop Lavington properly terms "Religion run mad," were the Author's leading objects. To effect these purposes, he delineated what we may fairly denominate "a powerful Preacher," who, from his countenance, and what is hinted at in the scale of vociferation at his left hand, seems treating his Congregation with a bull-roar.
He may be considered as either a Methodistical Papist, or a Popish Methodist, for his shaven crown intimates that he is a Jesuit; and the Harlequin's jacket underneath his gown denotes the versatility of his religious professions. This Proteus of the pulpit poises a puppet in each hand: that in the left represents the Devil grasping a gridiron; in his right, he holds the triple figure with the triangular emblem, by which Raphael, and some other painters, have profanely presumed to personify the Deity.
Dangling on pegs around the pulpit, and to be exhibited as there shall be occasion, are six other puppets, copied from the absurd misrepresentations which some of the old Masters have made of Adam and Eve, Peter and Paul, Moses and Aaron. Adam and Eve are a little caricatured, but evidently intended to hint at the dry designs of Albert Durer. Adam, though naked, has the air of a first-rate Coxcomb. Eve, encircled with a zone of fig-leaves, has neither grace in her step, nor dignity in her gestures. Peter, displaying his ponderous key, and pulling off Paul's black perriwig, is copied from Rembrandt, and to him referred in Hogarth's inscription. Paul, being low of stature, is elevated by high-heeled shoes, and armed with two swords. Moses and Aaron are retreating to the other side.
The Nobleman in a pew beneath refers to some known character. His face presents the index of a mind in which hypocrisy is united with another passion, and is in an eminent degree characteristic. The holy fervour of the Female, who, seduced by the tender touches of an earthly Lover, lets her celestial model fall to the ground, is equally remarkable.
A ragged Figure in the same pew dropping his tears into a bottle, we know, by his rueful countenance, his handcuffs, and the letter T marked on his cheek, to be a repentant Thief. A tattered and coal-black Proselyte, at the foot of the Reading-desk, inspired with the epidemical enthusiasm of the place, is embracing the idolatrous image of her adoration, which in colour is similar to herself.
As Sculptors and Painters have thought fit to represent a Cherub by a Child's head, with Duck wings; Hogarth to one of these infantine fancies, has whimsically added Duck feet.
The well-fed figure in the desk may perhaps be meant as an overcharged portrait of Whitefield. The fainting Female in the corner of the Print was intended for the well-known Mrs. Douglas, the original of Foote's Mother Cole. The Jew has a book open before him, on which is a Print of Abraham offering up Isaac.
The Figures in the back ground it is not necessary to enumerate; the four most obtrusive convey a severe satire on Transubstantiation. A Turk, looking through the window, is evidently thanking Mahomet that he has been early initiated in the Koran. A Dog with "Whitefield" on his collar, seated upon a hassock, is admirably designed. The figure of a Pigeon impressed on the Methodist's brain is obvious.
Thus did this great Artist express his First Thought, but afterwards erased, or essentially altered, every figure except two; and on the same piece of copper engraved "The Medley," in which are the following Variations, which are indeed so multifarious as to render it nearly a new Print.
The Preacher and the Devil, except in a few shadows added to a handkerchief, are left as in the first state, and these are the only figures which are so; from them, and the back ground, it is positively ascertained that the first and second engravings are on the same copper-plate. Raphael's strange symbol of the Deity the Artist has struck out, and in the place of it inserted a Witch on a Broomstick. Instead of the Puppets representing Adam and Eve, Peter and Paul, Moses and Aaron, we have Mrs. Veale's Ghost, Julius Caesar's Apparition, and the Shade of Sir George Villiers.
The Nobleman, and Lady dropping her deified Image, in the pew beneath the pulpit, are discarded, and a pair of vulgar characters put in their room.
The handcuffed Felon is obliterated, and his place supplied by two figures, one weeping, the other asleep. The ragged Woman hugging a model is altered to the Boy of Bilson; and on the hassock where there was the howling Dog is a shoeblack's basket with "Whitefield's Journal" placed upon "King James's Demonology." The characters of the Cherubim are changed, and though the Duck's wings are left, the feet are lopped off. In the place of the corpulent and consequential Clerk, the Artist has inserted a meagre and moon-eyed Monster, with wings that either grow out of his shoulders, or belong to a foul Fiend, planted behind him, and acting as his prompter. Mother Douglas is beaten out of the copper, and in her room Hogarth has introduced Mrs. Tofts and her Rabbits, one of the popular impositions of his own day. The smelling-bottle, applied to recover Mrs. Douglas from fainting, is with Mrs. Tofts very properly changed to a dram-glass. The Jew is altered, and altered for the worse: the print of Abraham and Isaac, in the book before him, is obliterated, and a knife inscribed "bloody," and laid upon an altar, supplies its place. In the characters of the common people of the Congregation there are several variations; the models which some of them held in their arms are totally changed. The Pigeon in the Methodist's brain is discarded. In the place of the inscription in the top division of the Mental Thermometer he has inserted the Cock-lane Ghost; and instead of the Glory, which in the First Thought crowned the whole, we have the Tedworth Drummer; a tale which, had it not given the subject for Addison's Comedy, would have been long since forgotten. On the scale of Vociferation, and the Chandelier, the names of Romaine and Whitefield are only to be found in the present state of the Plate. In the scale of the Mental Thermometer there are numerous alterations. In "The Medley," the Artist has made an addition, and placed "Wesley's Sermons," and "Glanville on Witches," as supporters to the Methodist's brain. To do this, and introduce the Rabbits on the fore-ground, he has brought his work so near the bottom of his Plate as not to leave room for a Title, which, with the quotation from St. John, "Believe not every spirit," &c. will be found, by those who examine the Print in its present state, to be engraven on another piece of copper.
Many little variations, besides those here noted, will appear by a comparison of the two designs. One is worthy of particular attention. In the Print of "Enthusiasm Delineated," the inscriptions on the Mental Thermometer, &c. are evidently from the burin of Hogarth; in the Print of the Medley, every inscription, even those which in each impression contain the same words, are the work of a Writing Engraver; from which it is probable, that in the first state the Artist never trusted the Plate out of his own hands.
With respect to the comparative merit of the two Prints, it may truly be said of the First Thought, what Mr. Walpole in his Anecdotes asserts of the second, that "for useful and deep satire, it is the most sublime of all his works." It forms one great whole, and the skill with which he has appropriated the absurd symbols of Painters, and combined the idolatrous emblems of Popery with the mummery of Modern Enthusiasts, presents a trait of his genius hitherto unknown; displays the powers of his mind on subjects new to his pencil; and shews an extent of information, and depth of thought, that is not to be found in any other of his works.
In "The Medley," the Artist has attacked follies of another description, and in his management of them has shewn much genius; and, by his transition from one subject to another, and the many metamorphoses of his characters, displayed a power of assimilating, an aptness of appropriating, and a versatility of pencil, that is hardly to be paralleled; and proved that his invention was inexhaustible. With all this it must be acknowledged, that some of the local credulities which he has there depicted, were of so temporary and trifling a nature, that even now they are hardly recollected.
Ten or twelve figures engraved on the back ground, are not in the First Thought: two of them a crazed Convert terrified by a Lay Preacher, are admirably descriptive; but the residue add to the number without much increasing the force, destroy the pyramid, and hurt the general effect — if they are intended to stand on the floor, they are too high; if on benches, too low. The effect of this Print is farther injured by the alteration of the Clerk. In the first state, his ample breadth of face, and black periwig, render him a leading character, and give him the rank of principal figure. The thin-visaged, hungry Harpy in "The Medley" has no importance; neither is there any principal figure in that Print. A little Cherubic Mercury crowned with a postillion's cap, and bearing in his mouth a letter directed to St. Moneytrap, is an after-thought in the second impression.
The Artist's inducements for making so many alterations arose, perhaps, from, the suggestion of some Friend, that the satire would be mistaken, and that there might be those who would suppose his arrows were aimed at Religion, though every shaft was pointed at the preposterous masquerade habit in which it has been sometimes disguised. Considering the time that must have been employed in beating out the old figures, the immense trouble of polishing the copper, &c. it seems extraordinary that he should not have wholly discarded his Plate of the First Thought, and taken another piece of copper for the second; but the alterations were probably made by degrees, and, before the Author was fully satisfied with his design, became much more numerous than he had at first intended.