The most appropriate description of this fine series of Prints will be found in the poetical commentary of the Rev. Dr. John Hoadly, engraved under each of the Eight Prints; and in the judicious critique of the Rev. William Gilpin, the substance of which is given in the following explanatory description, marked with inverted commas:
"The First Print of this capital work is an excellent representation of a young Heir taking possession of a Miser's effects. The passion of Avarice, which hoards every thing without distinction, what is and what is not valuable, is admirably described."
In a very few impressions of this Plate the name of Hogarth is in the second line. The girl's face who holds the ring is erased, and a worse is put in. The mother's head, &c. is lessened. The shoe-sole, cut from the cover of an antient Family Bible, together with a chest, is added; the memoranclum-book removed into another place; the woollen-draper's shop-bill appended to a roll of black cloth, omitted; the contents of the closet thrown more into shade.
"The Second Print introduces our Hero into all the dissipation of modish life. We became first acquainted with him when a boy of eighteen. He is now of age, has entirely thrown off the clownish school-boy, and assumes the man of fashion. Instead of the country tailor who took measure of him for his father's mourning, he is now attended with French barbers, French tailors, poets, milliners, jockeys, bullies, and the whole retinue of a fine Gentleman."
In this Plate are Portraits of Figg, the Prize-fighter; Bridgeman, a noted Gardener; and Dubois, a Master of Defence, who was killed in a duel by one of the same name. The Portrait of Handel has also been supposed to be represented in this Plate; but "this," as Sir John Hawkins observed to me, "is too much to say. Mr. Handel had a higher sense of his own merit than ever to put himself in such a situation; and if so, the Painter would hardly have thought of doing it. The Musician must mean in general any Composer of Operas." On the back of the Musician's chair hangs a list of presents, which Farinelli received the day after his performance of a favourite character at the Opera House—among others, "a gold snuff-box, chased with the story of Orpheus charming the Brutes, from T Rakewell, Esq." On the floor is a Picture representing Farinelli seated on a pedestal, with an altar before him, on which are several flaming hearts; near which stand a number of people, with their arms extended, offering him presents. At the foot of the altar is one female kneeling tendering her heart. From her mouth a label issues, inscribed, "One God, one Farinelli!" alluding to a lady of distinction, who, being charmed with a particular passage in one of his songs, uttered aloud from the boxes that impious exclamation.
Besides the characters already noticed, there are introduced a Blower of the French-horn, a Poet, and a Jockey. On the silver cup which the latter is presenting, we see inscribed, "Won at Epsom, by Silly Tom;" our sagacious Hero seems to have lent his own name to his favourite Horse.
This set of Prints was engraved chiefly by Scotin: but several of the faces were touched upon by Hogarth. In the second Plate the countenance of the man with the quarter-staves was wholly engraved by himself. In some early proofs of the Print, there is not a single feature on this man's face; there is no writing either in the Musician's book, or on the label; nor is there the horse-race cup, the letter, or the poem that is at the end of the label, that being entirely blank. I mention these circumstances, to shew that our Artist would not intrust particular parts of his work to any hand but his own; or perhaps he had neither determined on the countenance or the inscription he meant to introduce till the Plate was far advanced. With unfinished Proofs, on any other account, this Explanatory Description has nothing to do. As the rudiments of Plates, they may afford instruction to young Engravers, or add a fancied value to the collections of Connoisseurs.
"The Third Plate carries us still deeper into the History. We meet our Hero engaged in one of his evening's amusements. This Print, on the whole, is no very extraordinary effort of genius. The design is good, and may be a very exact description of the humours of a brothel. The composition, too, is not amiss."
In this Plate is one Leathercoat, a noted porter belonging to the Rose Tavern, with a large pewter dish in his hand, which for many years afterwards served as a sign to the shop of a Pewterer on Snow Hill. In this utensil the Posture-woman, who is undressing, used to whirl herself round, and display other feats of indecent activity.
Rouquet, in his description of an English Tavern, such as that in which our scene lies, mentions the following as extraordinary conveniences, and articles of magnificence: "Dulinge toujours blanc, de tables de bois qu'on appelle ici mahogani; grand feu, et gratis."
So entirely do our manners differ from those of the year 1735, that I much question if at present, in all the Taverns of London, any thing resembling the scene here exhibited by Hogarth could be found. That we are less sensual than our predecessors I do not affirm; but it may with truth be said, we are more delicate in pursuit of our gratifications. No young man of our Hero's fortune and education would now think of entertaining half a score of Prostitutes at a Tavern, after having routed a set of feeble wretches, who are idly called our Guardians of the night.
Variations: The Portrait of Pontac, an eminent Cook, is added, in the room of a mutilated Caesar; the principal woman has a man's hat on; Rake's head altered; woman who spirts the wine, and she who threatens her with a drawn knife, have lower caps, &c.
"Very disagreeable accidents often befall Gentlemen of pleasure. An event of this kind is recorded in the Fourth Print, now before us. Our Hero, going in full dress to pay his compliments at Court on St. David's Day, was accosted in the rude manner which is here represented."
The first of March was observed at Court, as Queen Caroline's birth-day, as well as the anniversary of St. David.
In some early impressions, a shoe-black steals the Rake's cane. In the modern ones, a large group of blackguards are introduced gambling on the pavement; near them a stone, inscribed, "Black’s," a contrast to White's gaming-house, against which a flash of lightning is pointed. The chief of these boys, who wears something that seems to have been a tie-wig, was painted from a French boy, who cleaned shoes at the corner of Hog Lane. A little smutty, smoking Politician is reading "The Farthing Post." The Chimney-sweeper peeping over the Post-boy's cards, and discovering that he has two honours, by holding up two fingers, is among the luckiest of Hogarth's traits.
"Difficulties crowd so fast upon our Hero, that at the age of twenty-five, which he seems to have attained in the Fifth Plate, we find him driven to the necessity of marrying, for her fortune, a woman whom he detests. The composition here is very good; and yet we have a disagreeable regularity in the climax of the three figures, the Maid, the Bride, and the Bridegroom. The light is not ill distributed; the principal figure, too, is graceful; and there is strong expression in the seeming tranquillity of his features. He hides his contempt of the object before him as well as he can; and yet he cannot do it. She, too, has as much meaning as can appear through the deformity of her features. The Clergyman's face we are all well acquainted with, and also his wig; though we cannot pretend to say where we have seen either. The Clerk, too, is an admirable fellow. The perspective is well understood; but the Church is too small; and the wooden post, which seems to have no use, divides the Picture very disagreeably. The Creed lost, the Commandments broken, and the Poor's-box obstructed by a cobweb, are all strokes of satirical humour."
In one part of the above remarks, Mr. Gilpin appears not to have fully comprehended the extent of the satire designed in it. "The wooden post," he says, "which seems to have no use, divides the Picture very disagreeably." Hogarth probably meant to expose the insufficiency of such ecclesiastical repairs as are confided to the superintendance of Parish Officers. We learn, from an inscription on the front of a pew, "This Church was beautified in the year 1725; Tho. Sice, Tho. Horn, Churchwardens." These persons were really the Churchwardens of Marylebone Parish at that time.
The Print before us came out in 1735 (i.e. only ten years afterwards), and by that time the old Church might have been found in the condition here exhibited, and have required a prop to prevent part of its roof from falling in. As a proof that the Churh was really in a ruinous state, it was pulled down, and was re-built in the year 1741.
At the period when this Print appeared, Marylebone Church was considered at such a distance from London as to become the usual resort of those who, like our Hero, wished to be privately married.
Accompanied by her Child and Mother, the unfortunate victim of his seduction is endeavouring to enter the Church, and is opposed by the Pew-opener.
In this Plate Hogarth introduced his favourite dog Trump, paying his addresses to a one-eyed quadruped of his own species; a happy parody of the unnatural union going on in the Church. Of this dog his friend Roubiliac made a model as large as life.
From the antiquated Bride, and the young Female adjusting the folds of her gown, is taken a French Print of a wrinkled Harridan of fashion at her toilet, attended by a blooming coëffeuse. It was engraved by L. Surugue, in 1745, from a Picture in crayons by Coypel, and is intituled, "La Folie pare la Decrepitude des Ajustemens de la Jeunesse." From the Frenchman, however, the Devonshire-square Dowager of our Artist has received so high a polish, that she might be mistaken for a Queen-mother of France.