The Sleeping Congregation (HD download)
This Print was first published in October 1736, price one shilling, under the title of "A Print presenting a Sleepy Congregation in a Country Church. By Mr. Hogarth." It was re-touched and improved by the Author in 1762. Mr. John Ireland has well observed, that in "The Sleeping Congregation," "Distressed Poet, " "Enraged Muscian," "Strolling Actresses," "Modern Midnight Conversation," and many genuine Comedies of a low description, the humour of Five Acts is brought into One Scene. These were the genuine productions of Hogarth's own mind.
In this Print the Reverend Divine is generally supposed to represent Dr. John Theophilus Desaguliers, an indefatigable Experimental Philosopher, who had the Vicarage of Whitchurch in Middlesex, and the Rectory of Much Munden, Herts. To which of those Churches this Inside View is to be appropriated, not having visited either, I am not able to determine; but, from the two spacious windows, the size of the King's arms, and an escutcheon of the arms of Nicoll (Argent, three Pheons Sable), I should conjecture it to be Whitchurch; the first Duke of Chandos having married a Miss Nicoll.
The Preacher seems to be as much under the influence of Morpheus as any of his somniferous flock. His drawling monotony operates like an opiate upon all who are
present. The text, as appears by the book before him, is perfectly applicable to his audience: "Come unto me all ye that are heavily laden, and I will give you rest." His
Parishioners, after the labour of six days, find the Church a comfortable dormitory, and the Preacher has the happy talent of lulling to soft repose. The Clerk, a more important character than the Divine, is kept awake by contemplating the charms of a blooming Damsel, who has yielded to the omnipotent power of sleep, while she was studying the service of Matrimony. A significant leer of the Response-maker it evidently directed to the fair Slumberer.
In the pew opposite, five swains of the village, overcome by the somnific dose administered to their ears, enjoy uninterrupted rest. The old women seated among them seem indeed to be awake. Perhaps they are actuated by the spirit of contradiction, as the Preacher entreats them to "go to rest;" or the Painter meant to intimate that the women are more attentive than men to their spiritual concerns.
In the front of the gallery two persons are joining in chorus with the nasal band below.
The Lion is one of the supporters to what is called the King's Arms; the Unicorn, its companion is concealed by the pillar. An hour-glass is placed at the Parson’s left hand; and underneath it we see the following applicable inscription, from St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians: "I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain."
An hour-glass is still placed in some of the pulpits in the remote provinces. Daniel Burgess, of eccentric memory, never preached without one, and frequently saw it out three times during one sermon.
In the original Painting, which was in the collection of Edward Walpole, the face of the Clerk is admirably painted, and with great force; but he appears to be rather dozing than leering at the young woman, as in the Print. This Plate was first published in October 1736 ; but was re-touched and improved by Hogarth in April 1762.