This well-imagined series of Plates was designed by Hogarth, and engraved by himself, for the matchless Poem of Butler; and each is illustrated by an appropriate quotation from the facetious Satirist: and, as our ingenious Artist formed his designs from an attentive perusal of the Poem, his engravings, and the extracts selected under each of them, reciprocally explain each other.
"His Hudibras," says Mr. Walpole, "was the first of his works that marked him as a man above the common; yet," adds the Critic, somewhat too fastidiously, "what made him then noticed, now surprizes us, to find so little humour in an undertaking so congenial to his talents."
The original title ran thus: "Twelve excellent and most diverting Prints, taken from the celebrated Poem of Hudibras, wrote by Samuel Butler; exposing the villany and hypocrisy of the times. Invented and engraved on twelve copper-plates by William Hogarth; and are humbly dedicated to William Ware, Esq. of Great Houghton, in Northamptonshire, and Mr. Allan Ramsay, of Edinburgh."
"What excellence can Brass or Marble claim?
These Papers better do secure thy Fame,
Thy Verse all monuments does far surpass,
No Mausoleum's like thy Hudibras"
Alan Ramsay subscribed for thirty sets; and the number of Subscribers amounted to 192.
The original Plates were afterwards purchased by Mr. Philip Overton. They subsequently passed into the hands of the late Mr. Robert Sayer; and it is certain that Hogarth often lamented the having parted with his property in them, without ever having had an opportunity to improve them.
In the first of these Plates is a Portrait, inscribed "Mr. Samuel Butler, born 1612, Author of Hudibras, died 1680." The basso-relievo of the pedestal represents Butler's Genius in a car, lashing round Mount Parnassus, in the persons of Hudibras and Ralpho, Rebellion, Hypocrisy, and Ignorance, the reigning vices and follies of the time.
In the scene of the Committee (Plate IX.) one of the members has his gloves on his head "I am told," says Mr. Steevens, this whimsical custom once prevailed among our sanctified fraternity; but it is in vain, I suppose, to ask the reason why." This doubt, however, has since produced, from a respectable Divine, an intimation that he has frequently heard his father, who died some years ago at an advanced age, notice the custom of placing the gloves on the head at church as not uncommon in cold weather.
In the earliest impressions of Plate XI. the words "Down with the Rumps" are not inserted on the scroll.