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Biographical essay on the genius and works of Hogarth (Part II)

Par Clifford Armion : Professeur agrégé d'anglais - ENS de Lyon , ed
Publié par Clifford Armion le 10/05/2012

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So much has already been written respecting the illustrious Artist who is the subject of the present memoir, that, were it not intended as a necessary accompaniment to this Edition of his works, a sketch of his life might seem to require some apology. It is not here professed to bring forward additional facts, but rather to examine generally his peculiar merits as an Artist, and to exhibit, within a moderate compass, the opinions of his various Commentators; connecting this criticism with such a brief outline of his life as may serve to give a biographical form to the whole.
By John Nichols, ESQ. FSA.

His "Analysis of Beauty" drew upon him much persecution at the time of its appearance; and involved him in squabbles productive of vexation and irritation. A German translation of this work by Mylius, who executed it under the Author's inspection, was published in London; and an improved edition afterwards appeared at Berlin in 1754, by Fr. Vok, accompanied with an explanation of Hogarth's satirical Prints from the French. An Italian translation, also, was published at Leghorn in 1761.

About this period, in consequence of the public attention bestowed upon the Painting presented to the Foundling Hospital by Hogarth, the Academy in St. Martin's Lane began to form themselves into a more important body, and to teach the Arts under regular Professors. But, extraordinary as it may appear, this scheme was so far from being welcomed by Hogarth as indicative of a brighter sera in the Fine Arts, that he absolutely discouraged it, as tending to allure many young men into a profession in which they would not be able to support themselves, and at the same time to degrade what ought to be a liberal profession into a merely mechanical one.

In the interval between the "Analysis" and the "Election Prints," which (with the exception of the fourth, not completed till 1758) appeared in 1755, our Artist produced nothing of importance, his only works being the "Frontispiece to Kirby's Perspective," and a Plate entitled "Crowns, Mitres, Maces, &c." The Frontispiece is a whimsical collection of the most absurd solecisms against the rules of Perspective, such as no one could possibly commit. The other Plate, which was originally intended as a compliment to Parliament for the protection afforded by them to the Copyright of Engravings, was altered so as to serve as a Subscription Ticket to the Series of Election Prints.

The first of this excellent set of Plates, the "Election Entertainment," is dated Feb. 24, 1755. Of this subject Mr. Lamb speaks in the following rapturous terms of commendation: "In that inimitable Print (which in my judgment as far exceeds the more known and celebrated "March to Finchley" as the best Comedy exceeds the best Farce that ever was written), let a person look till he be saturated; and when he has done wondering at the inventiveness of genius which could bring so many characters (more than thirty distinct classes of face) into a room, and set them down at table together, or otherwise dispose them about, in so natural a manner, engage them in so many easy sets and occupations, yet all partaking of the spirit of the occasion which brought them together, so that we feel that nothing but an Election-time could have assembled them: —when he shall have done wondering at all these faces so strongly charactered, yet finished with the accuracy of the finest miniature; when he shall have done admiring the numberless appendages of the scene, those gratuitous doles which rich genius flings into the heap when it has already done enough; the dumb rhetoric of the scenery —for tables, and chairs, and joint stools, are, in Hogarth, living and significant things: —when he shall have sufficiently admired this wealth of genius, let him fairly say what is the result left on his mind." For the whole of this eloquent criticism the Reader must be referred to the Essay itself, from the perusal of which he will rise with an entire conviction that Hogarth was a genuine painter of Human Nature in all its modifications, and as capable of exciting generous sentiments, as of entertaining by his humour and his wit. This Series was published at different intervals, the second Plate not appearing until two years after the first, and the third and fourth at the beginning of the year 1758. Other works, however, were produced in the interim; in 1756 his "France," and "England," two Prints etched by himself: in these Hogarth appears to have indulged in his spleen, or his patriotism, against the French nation. Nothing can be imagined more antithetical than these two companion Prints, as to the subjects exhibited, although they certainly accord admirably as to their object, namely, to turn the Grand Monarque and his armies into ridicule. The puny and haggard forms of the French are strongly contrasted with the ample persons of the English; nor are their respective signs, "Soup Meagre," and "Roast and Boiled every Day," less speakingly opposed to each other. In all that concerned national feelings Hogarth was a staunch John Bull. Walpole, indeed, says, that these were two of the instances in which he stooped to low images and national satire, to please his vulgar customers.

In the same year he painted the three Pictures that decorate the Altarpiece at St. Mary's Redcliffe, at Bristol, viz. 1. "The Annunciation;" 2. "The High-priest and Servants sealing the Tomb;" 3. "The Three Marys at the Sepulchre." Speaking of these performances, in his History of that Church, Mr. Britton makes the following judicious observations: "In pictures of comic character, rich humour, and moral satire, particularly in displaying the human figure and countenance in its common and popular forms, Hogarth certainly excelled all other painters. Many of his Pictures were also executed in a masterly style of colouring, grouping, and effect. Like the generality of Artists, he was occasionally required to paint subjects from ancient and sacred history; but he then wandered out of his element, and at once betrayed a want of judgment and of taste. In the three pictures at Redcliffe Church this is exemplified. As specimens of colouring, however, they possess much merit, and may be viewed with advantage by the young Artist; but in the forms and expression, and in their attitudes and grouping, we seek in vain for propriety, dignity, or elegance."

Shortly after this period, (in 1757,) Hogarth obtained both honorary titles and substantial emolument. The former were conferred upon him by the Imperial Academy at Augsburg, which elected him a Counsellor, and an Honorary Member of their Institution; the latter he obtained from his appointment of Serjeant Painter to the King, an office from which he derived £.200 per annum. This had been originally held by his Father-in-law, Sir James Thornhill, by whom it was given up to his Son, John Thomhill, Esq. and he, at the period now mentioned, resigned it in favour of Hogarth.

Our Artist may now be considered as having produced all the more vigorous offspring of his genius; for from this period, with one or two exceptions, his Engravings consist of small and unimportant works. He published, however, in 1758, a Portrait of himself, in which he is represented painting a figure of the Comic Muse; also another Print, entitled "Character, or the Bench," containing four Portraits of Judges of the Common Pleas (see page 43), which Plate he afterwards altered, and worked upon even the day preceding his death. As one of the exceptions to the above remark must be noticed his "Cockpit," which exhibits great diversity of character in individuals actuated by the same passions. In the decrepid Old Man, who is holding a trumpet up to his ear, the Artist has shewn how strong the attachment to such disgraceful and inhuman pursuits continues, in spite of all the infirmities of age, when they appear doubly criminal and inexcusable. The figure seated on the left of the President, and looking up, is strikingly natural, and one of those which every one recognizes, without being able to identify it with any particular individual.

In 1759, the same year in which this Print made its appearance, Hogarth produced his celebrated Picture of "Sigismunda," to which performance he was, in evil hour, instigated by his ambition to enter into competition with Correggio. This was indeed a desperate and imprudent attempt, undertaken without duly considering his own talents. Hogarth, like Boccacio, could be alternately comic or serious, but he did not possess the instinctive delicacy of pathos and the simplicity of the Italian, nor could he do justice to such a subject as Count Guiscardo's Widow. This failure occasioned him much vexation, although the self-love of the Artist preponderated over public neglect and disapprobation.

From this period till 1762, when his satirical Prints of "The Medley," and "The Times" appeared, he was employed upon a few subjects of minor importance, viz. The Frontispieces to two volumes of Tristram Shandy and Brook Taylor's Perspective, "Time smoking a Picture," and the "Five Orders of Periwigs." The Print of Time was intended as a Subscription Ticket for his "Sigismunda," —likewise to ridicule the affectation of Connoisseurs for old pictures, and the artifices of Picture-dealers, and Vampers-up of undoubted originals. For the latter he always professed a strong aversion, taking not the least pains to conceal it. Speaking of his "Sigismunda," he says, "the most virulent and violent abuse thrown on it was from a set of miscreants with whom I am proud of being ever at war. I mean the expounders of the mysteries of old pictures." Against the quackery of Connoisseurship, too, he always expressed himself with particular asperity.

"The Five Orders of Periwigs" was intended, it is said, as an oblique satire upon Stuart's Athens, and the minute accuracy with which the different measurements and proportions are given in that work. This, if we may judge from a fragment preserved by Mr. John Ireland, was, in Hogarth's opinion, supreme trifling; indeed, to such a mind as his, whatever partook of that scrupulous investigation necessary to the study of Antiquities must have appeared pedantic and mechanical. Could he, however, have foreseen that the study of the Grecian Orders would have superseded the school of Burlington and Kent, he would probably rather have been eager to promote, than have attempted to ridicule it.

The first idea of "The Medley; or, Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticism" was entitled "Enthusiasm Delineated;" but in this state of the copper only two impressions were taken. It was afterwards altered so completely as to be rendered altogether a different subject (see description, pages 49 and 51). Originally it was intended to ridicule the gross and palpable absurdities of the Romish Church, but was altered so as to apply to the prevailing superstitions of the day in general, and to Methodism in particular. The foolish and profane presumption of attempting to represent under a visible form that which can never be an object of the senses, and the monstrous absurdities which arise from it, are well exemplified in the grotesque Cherubim. Such hieroglyphical forms are but one degree removed from the profane Anthropomorphism of the Catholic Painters, who represent the First Person of the Trinity under the appearance of an Old Man; as if decrepitude and age were the attributes of the Deity. Speaking of this Print, Mr. Walpole says, that it is, "for deep and useful satire, the most sublime of all his works."

This year was marked by an event that contributed in no small degree to embitter the declining days of Hogarth, and even, perhaps, to abridge them. In evil hour he turned aside from subjects of universal and permanent interest, to become a political Caricaturist, and to embroil himself in all the asperities of party contention, attacking his former friends, Wilkes and Churchill. The Plate of "The Times" was published in September 1762, and immediately produced a very severe paper upon the Artist, written by Wilkes, in the 17th Number of the North Briton. Hogarth retorted by publishing a caricature Portrait of the Writer. This, however, so far from terminating the contest, served only to call an ally into the field. Churchill, eager to chastise the Painter for this personal attack upon his friend, produced his "Epistle to William Hogarth." But although this keen invective is said to have been felt by him less than the North Briton was, he was not at all disposed to let it pass with impunity; therefore, as he had before exhibited Wilkes, by merely heightening the natural obliquity of his countenance, he now exposed the Poet in the shape of a bear, affixing the following title to the Print, "The Bruiser, C. Churchill (once the Revd!) in the Character of a Russian Hercules, &c."

These contentions, which were carried on with so little credit or honour to any party, produced much irritation to Hogarth | his health visibly declined, and toward the end of 1762 he was affected with some internal disorder that brought on a general decay. He continued, however, to employ himself, and made a curious design ("The Weighing House") to illustrate a pamphlet by Mr. Clubbe, entitled "Physiognomy." During the last year of his life he re-touched many of his Plates, in which he was assisted by several Engravers; and, but a few months previous to his death, as if conscious of the approach of that event, and desirous of terminating his labours with an appropriate subject, he executed his "Finis," or an allegorical representation of the end of all things. On the 25th of October 1764 he was removed from his villa at Chiswick to his house in Leicester Square, and on the same night expired in the arms of his Wife. His remains were interred in Chiswick church-yard, where a monument is erected to his memory, with an inscription by his friend Garrick.

From what is recorded of his personal character, Hogarth appears to have been by no means remarkable for amiable manners or liberal sentiments, but to have retained, through his whole life, all the narrow prejudices arising from his want of education. He is said to have been jealous of his contemporaries; and, not content with being pre-eminent and without a rival in his own branch of the Art, was always disposed to depreciate the serious, historical, and poetical styles. On the other hand, it must be acknowledged, that he was a man of strict integrity, liberal, and hospitable ; so that, notwithstanding the affluence which he secured to himself by his works, he did not leave, with the exception of his Plates, any considerable property to his Widow. These were secured to her by his will, dated August 12, 1764, chargeable with an annuity of £.80 to his Sister Anne. His Widow survived him five and twenty years, for she did not die till November 13, 1789; after which event the Plates were sold by Mrs. Lewis to Alderman Boydell.

Few men of genius have been the subject of more numerous writings than Hogarth, nor have many been so fortunate in their Commentators. His three great Critics, Walpole, Lamb, and Lichtenberg, appear to have studied his works profoundly, but variously; each discovering in his remarks the peculiar bent of his own temper. Lord Orford is lively and shrewd, and his observations are worthy of the pen that wrote the "Reminiscences." Lamb has penetrated farther into the genius of Hogarth: he has analysed in the most masterly manner his powers of imagination and invention, and has brought to his subject a mind that completely grasped it. From him we learn, that Hogarth was a truly philosophical Artist, not a mere putter-together of figures to compose amusing pictures; for he has shewn that his works are replete with profound study and vigorous intellect, and that, for the quality of thought, they will bear a comparison with those of the greatest Masters. Lichtenberg, who, although a German, is the very antipode of a High-Dutch Commentator, looked at him completely through the medium of wit: he fully entered into his spirit, as far as relates to whimsicalness, oddity, and a keen relish for the ridiculous and the humourous—for all the combinations of graphic wit. When we read this author, we feel that it may be as truly predicated of Hogarth as of Falstaff, that he was not only witty himself, but the cause of wit in other men. It must be allowed, however, that both he and Mr. Lamb are occasionally apt to see in Hogarth more than he probably intended.

Like other Commentators, Mr. Lamb exhibits an extreme, not to say undue, partiality for his Author; yet he has characterised his productions with real feeling, and has deeply analysed that finer spirit which is less perceptible to common beholders. He has exhibited Hogarth's powers in a point of view very different from that in which he had been considered by preceding writers. According to him, Hogarth possesses even more severity than comic humour—more of the causticity of Juvenal, or of Shakspeare in his Timon and Jaques, than of the playful wit of the latter in his Falstaff. By some, however,—by the admirers of what is called the grand style of painting, or by those who regard the production of beautiful forms as the primary object of Art, rather than the intellectual value of a composition, he will be thought to estimate his favourite too highly. With great excellencies, Hogarth has at the same time his defects: it is the province, therefore, of Criticism to discriminate between the latter and the former, since Genius does not excite our approbation in consequence, but in spite, of the blemishes which accompany it. Many of Hogarth's defects belong not so much to him as to the subjects which he selected, and consequently he could not have avoided them without committing greater errors. Of this description is the preposterous and tasteless costume of that period, both in dress and furniture, which, from our not being accustomed to it in real life, gives to his figures a grotesque and antiquated air, that to some persons will render them less natural than the characters in Wilkie's pictures, since, by some, Nature and the Tailor are considered as nearly equal co-partners in the fabrication of that compound being—Man. Yet from this very circumstance, his Plates acquire a value and interest which they could not have for contemporaries, namely that of recording more perfectly and vividly than any description, however elaborate, the fashions and manners of our ancestors. It would, however, certainly be imprudent to claim for our Artist every species of merit: he had but little grace or elegance, nor was he always pre-eminently successful in picturesque effect: what he chiefly valued was, strokes of satire, character, expression, thought; and, provided he secured these, he did not scruple to sacrifice graphic elegance to moral strength, and to sentiment whether humorous or pathetic. Thus much may be safely conceded on either side; but it hardly shews much judgment to insist upon his possessing beauties at which he did not aim, or, if he did, not with any striking success.

On the merits of the "Biographical Anecdotes of Hogarth," first published in 1781, in a thin octavo volume, it would (for obvious reasons) be improper here to enlarge; but it may not be too much to say that, assisted as the Work was by the powerful talents of George Steevens, Esq. it soon passed through a third, greatly enlarged edition, and, at a distance of thirty years, was again published in two handsome quartos, to which a third volume was added in 1817, which contains like the preceding, very many interesting particulars respecting the personal history of our great Artist, and his early graphic productions.

Among the other writers upon Hogarth may be mentioned the two Irelands, whose works are rather historical and explanatory than critical: and Mr. Gilpin, who, in his "Essay on Prints," has several able remarks on their technical merits, and then value as ethical compositions With respect to the former, he observes: "The execution of this Master is well suited to his subjects, and manner of treating them. He etches with great spirit, and never gives one unnecessary stroke. For myself, I greatly more value the works of his own needle than those highly  finished Prints on which he employed other Engravers. For as the production of an effect is not his talent, and as this is the chief excellence of high finishing, his own rough manner is certainly preferable;  in which we have most of the force and spirit of his expression " As to Dr. Trusler’s "Hogarth Moralized," the observations it contains are too trite and common-place to be worthy the productions they profess to elucidate: indeed, the Author was much better qualified to descant on the morality of Mr. Penny's (1) pictures, than to set up for the hierophant of Hogarth's Genius. Yet little valuable as this performance is in itself, it has the merit of originality, and of giving rise, probably, to an idea that has subsequently been so much improved upon :—unless, indeed, Rouquet's descriptive work be considered as the prototype of all subsequent ones. The "Clavis Hogarthiana" is merely a piece of pleasantry, the merit of which is, that it amuses by the happy applications it produces from classical writers. The late M. Bartsch (2) in his "Anleitung zur Kupferstichkunde," speaking of Hogarth, says, "This Artist, who may in more than one respect be compared to Aristophanes, introduced genuine Comedy into Painting, and delineated the manners of his Countrymen in a true, attractive, and instructive manner, and not unfrequently with considerable pathos. One considers him as a great Satiric Author, who described the follies and vices of his age with the pencil and the burin. His great merit consists in invention, and in the expression which he gives to the passions. His efforts are constantly directed at catching the soul of his Art, in doing which he comparatively disregarded its body—mechanical skill; his productions, therefore, are more valued for their vigorous and racy conceptions, than for the excellence of their execution. It is the Satirist, not the Artist, that we admire in Hogarth."

It will, perhaps, be inquired, how far Hogarth deserves the appellation of a Moral Painter; or, whether he has not, on more than one occasion, exhibited scenes rather likely to corrupt by their profligacy, than reform by the lesson they purpose to inculcate. The latter objection attaches itself more or less to every production that exposes to reproof what is censurable in manners and conduct; and there are minds so unhappily constituted, that they are apt to fasten with a perverted appetite upon what is held up to scorn and reprehension. Of Hogarth, however, it may be safely asserted, that he has less gratuitous indecency than certain of his subjects would lead us to expect. With respect to his two Plates, "Before and After," they can hardly be said to belong to his works. These were painted at the suggestion of another; but this circumstance rather aggravates than extenuates the offence: for he who condescends to administer to the prurient and depraved taste of others, is uniformly regarded as more criminal and more contemptible than he who seeks only his own vicious indulgences. Yet, gross as is the idea of these subjects, there is in the manner of their execution but little to seduce, for they certainly partake much more of the ridiculous than of the voluptuous. With regard to indelicacies, it is not so easy to exculpate our Artist; but, as it is not purposed here to apologise for them, so neither is it intended to enumerate them: they may be regarded as belonging to the manners of the age, which were not altogether so pure, so innocent, and so unsophisticated, as the declaimers against modern times and habits would have us believe. It may, however, be observed, by way of general remark, that he is in this respect, as M. Bartsch has felicitously characterized him, the Aristophanes of Painters: if he occasionally indulges in equal licence, and in similar transgressions against decorum, he at the same time displays the same protervity of fancy, the same caprice of imagination—equal mordacity, and equal humour.

Turning from the consideration of his merits as an Ethical Painter, it is now time to examine Hogarth as a Caricaturist. A great portion of the humour of Caricature, or rather those whimsical, satirical compositions, and capricci, so denominated, consists in translating closely on the copper or canvass the metaphors of language. This is, in fact, the essence of this branch of the graphic Art, which must, therefore, be judged accordingly. These extravagances are "chartered Libertines," and are therefore not amenable to any other than their own bye-laws. "Tous les genres sont bons," says Voltaire, "hors le genre ennuyeux;" they may, therefore, be tolerated as the relaxations or the frolics of genius, for it would be as absurd to quarrel with such impossibilities, as to cavil at the talking and reasoning animals in Æsop's Fables. To this class of productions, partaking somewhat of the nature of hieroglyphic writing, may be referred, "The Just View of the British Stage;" "Royalty, Episcopacy, and Law;" "The Times," &c. In these his satire was sometimes sufficiently caustic, at others not perfectly intelligible. It has not been remarked before, but it may be supposed that the Teapot, which serves to form the head of the Lady in the second of the above-mentioned subjects, was intended to denote, that the Fair Sex of that age had more vapours (at that time the fashionable phrase for what is now understood by ennui) in their heads than brains; particularly ladies of quality, for tea was not then so common a beverage as it is now. This Print may, indeed, be termed a combination of visible puns, and graphic metaphors : we may, therefore, safely presume, that in forming his emblematic representations of Courtiers, the Artist not only designed to hint that they borrow their hue of prejudice and passion from their superiors, just as a mirror reflects the surrounding objects, but also intended a pun by exhibiting them in the form of Pier-glasses. Hogarth appears to have delighted in these enigmatical amusements, just as Swift did in conundrums and riddles, for he has given us another specimen of them in his "Large Masquerade Ticket." Yet, after all, the pleasure afforded by such ingenious obscurities terminates with the labour of decyphering them; although it must at the same time be allowed that there is some latitude in this respect, since they admit of so many various interpretations, more perhaps than the Artist himself had any idea of, each person explaining them his own way.

Independently of the principal interest and satire of his Plates, Hogarth abounds in sly, and apparently unintended traits of humour: there is such a prodigality of wit in his compositions, that they afford a varied and inexhaustible fund of interest. As instances of this bye-play—this redundancy of his spirit—may be mentioned, Crebillon's novel of the "Sopha," significantly thrown upon the piece of furniture of that name in the countess' Dressing-room in Marriage-à-la-mode—the picture of St. Luke in the 5th Plate of the same series—the Goose flying over the Member's Head, in the Chairing scene—the Halfpenny nailed up in Bedlam—the Prelate killing Time at a Masquerade—and, the Strolling Actresses, passim. Not even a piece of paper, however apparently insignificant, was suffered to be idle, but such little scraps were made to contribute some stroke of Satire or of Wit—thus, such inscriptions as "Freeman's Best," and "Kirton's Best," with many other similar instances, will be found on examination to possess a significancy that bestows on them a value and importance. Even a motto in Hogarth is replete with as much drollery and humour, as an entire page in many an author to whom, nevertheless, dulness is not to be imputed. What, for example, can be happier than that which he has selected for the "Undertakers' Arms"— "Et Plurima Mortis Imago"? Independently, too, of their own positive merits, his Prints would possess no inconsiderable value, were it only for recording so faithfully the manners and the fashions of the age to which they belong; and for preserving the likenesses of many contemporaiy characters,—that too more expressively than would have been done by mere portraits. If he sometimes exceeds the limits of propriety, it is where he introduces too many accessaries and details to be either consistent with probability, or advantageous to the general effect, the composition being thereby crowded, and frittered away. In this respect, some of his pieces require a certain degree of conventional concession on the part of the spectator, that he will overlook this species of improbability, and rather regard such subjects as generalities, and as delineations of classes of events, than as the representations of individual incidents. Examples of this occur in the "Stages of Cruelty," "Gin Lane," &c. where circumstances are crowded together in the most improbable manner.

With regard to the mechanical execution of his Engravings, it is by no means of a superior description, for Hogarth seems to have been less solicitous to captivate the eye, than to inform the mind, and to depict in a forcible and energetic manner the follies which he exposed to derision— the vices which he held forth to abhorrence. But in estimating his merits and his deficiencies in this respect, it behoves us to take into account the wretched state of the Arts at the time when he flourished, and the extraordinary progress which those of Engraving and Design have since made. There is now a certain general air of elegance displayed in the most common-place prints, and in the productions of very moderate Artists, that forms a striking contrast with those of sixty or seventy years ago. Such book-embellishments as those designed by Hogarth for Milton and Don Quixote would not now be tolerated. It is, indeed, somewhat remarkable that his subjects from Hudibras, Don Quixote, and Tristram Shandy—works which we might suppose would have been illustrated by him in the happiest manner, as productions most consonant to his own particular bent of genius, disappoint us when compared with his original compositions; they have, in short, nothing of that raciness and generous flavour which springs from immediate inspiration.—It is not so extraordinary that he should have completely failed in embodying the sublime conceptions of Milton, as that he should have attempted what was so diametrically opposite to his talent, and what must baffle the utmost powers of Painting.

Before concluding, it may not be improper briefly to advert to our Artist's predilection for alterations. In some of his Plates these are considerable, and of an important nature; for, like all men of Genius, the fertility of his mind continually created new ideas. Such discrepancies, therefore, in many instances between the early and later impressions from the same Copper, should not induce any one to suppose that the altered Engravings are spurious Copies, since the variations were made by Hogarth himself, who frequently, after a very few impressions had been taken from a Plate, effaced some parts, and substituted others. Of course the scarce impressions taken from the Plate in its first state, are highly prized by curious Collectors, not for any greater intrinsic merit they possess, but in consequence of the incidental and adventitious value conferred upon them by their rarity. That the Works of such a man as William Hogarth should have obtained universal approbation, and be held in veneration by his Countrymen, as reflecting honour on his native land, is most natural; yet, in some instances, admiration and zeal seem to have overstepped their due bounds. To affect to discern something valuable in all his minor productions is somewhat indiscreet; for, like other men of genius, he occasionally produced what would never have been worth either preserving or recording, had it not been for the association of his name; and what is to be considered as the dross, not the sterling metal of his genius. Much, however, is pardonable to that curiosity respecting an eminent individual, which induces us to examine every thing connected with him, although even certain of not meeting with any thing to increase our admiration.

Hogarth was one of those Great Men, whose works are destined to survive all the changes of taste, and all the caprices of fashion: for valuable and interesting as they would be, did they do no more than preserve a faithful picture of contemporary manners, they are to be still more highly estimated, for containing those strokes of Nature, and of genuine Wit, that are intelligible in every country, and in every age. In dignity of subject, in grandeur of composition, in the technical beauties of execution, in design, in chiaro-scuro, in exactness of imitation, in elegance, and in gracefulness, Hogarth has been excelled by several; but no Artist has ever yet produced works that rival, in expression and in character, those of the great Ethic Painter, of whom England is so justly proud: —works that will always continue to be admired in proportion to the care with which they are studied.

(1) See Mr. Lamb's Essay. If we believe Barry, this gentleman, whose works by the bye are now utterly forgotten, pursued a line of art "of a much more delicate and superior relish!"

(2) This celebrated Connoisseur, the Author of "Le Peintre Graveur," died August 21, 1821.


Pour citer cette ressource :

Clifford Armion, ed, "Biographical essay on the genius and works of Hogarth (Part II)", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), mai 2012. Consulté le 13/07/2024. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/arts/peinture/biographical-essay-on-the-genius-and-works-of-hogarth-part-ii-