William Hogarth - «The Harlot's Progress»
Passing over for the present the minor productions of our Artist's pencil, and reserving his Illustrations of Hudibras for a future page; it is proper to observe, that in 1733 Hogarth's genius became conspicuously known. The familiarity of the subject, and the propriety of its execution, made The Harlot's Progress tasted by all ranks of people. Above twelve hundred names were entered in the subscription-book. It was made into a pantomime by Theophilus Cibber; and again represented on the stage, under the title of "The Jew decoyed, or a Harlot's Progress," in a ballad opera. Fan-mounts were likewise engraved, containing miniature representations of all the Six Plates.
These were usually printed off with red ink, three compartments on one side, and three on the other. "This series of Prints gives the History of a Prostitute. The story commences with her arrival in London, where, initiated in the school of profligacy, she experiences the miseries consequent to her situation, and dies in the morning of life. Her variety of wretchedness forms such a picture of the way in which Vice rewards her votaries, as ought to warn the young and inexperienced from entering this path of infamy."
The incidents have a striking resemblance to "The Andrian" of Terence; a circumstance it may be sufficient here barely to notice, as it has been most elaborately illustrated by the learned Author of the "Clavis Hogarthiana."
The ingenious Abbe Du Bos has often complained, that no History-painter of his time went through a series of actions; and thus, like an Historian, painted the successive fortunes of an hero, from the cradle to the grave. What Du Bos wished to see done, Hogarth performed. He launches out his young adventurer, a simple girl, upon the town, and conducts her through all the vicissitudes of wretchedness to a premature death. This was painting to the understanding and to the heart; none had ever before made the pencil subservient to the purposes of morality and instruction. A book like this is fitted to every soil and every observer; and he that runs may read. Nor was the success of Hogarth confined to his persons. One of these excellences consisted in what may be termed the furniture of his pieces; for, as in sublime and historical representations the fewer trivial circumstances are permitted to divide the spectator's attention from the principal figures, the greater is their force; so in scenes copied from familiar life, a proper variety of little domestic images contributes to throw a degree of verisimilitude on the whole.
"The rake's levee-room," says Mr. Walpole, "the nobleman's dining-room, the apartments of the husband and wife in Marriage à-la-mode, the alderman's parlour, the bed-chamber, and many others, are the history of the manners of the age."
As the Plates now before the Reader had the advantage of being improved by Hogarth's latest thoughts, it is not necessary to enter into a minute detail of their progressive variations, though some of them will occasionally be noticed. The remarks, however, of every preceding Commentator have been consulted: particularly the acute criticisms of Mr. Steevens, and the accurate observations of Mr. John Ireland.
The Harlot's Progress, PLATE I.
This introductory scene is supposed to be laid at the Bull Inn, in Wood-street; and the Heroine to be the daughter of the old Clergyman, who is reading the direction of a letter, close by the waggon from which she has just alighted.
In this Plate is a Portrait of the notorious Colonel Chartres; and behind him is John Gourlay, a pimp, whom he always kept about his person. This last is said to represent Antony Henley also. In the centre is seen an infamous woman, whose memory is thus perpetuated in the Dunciad:
"To Needham's, quick, the voice triumphal rode, But pious Needham dropt the name of God. "
A note on this passage says, "she was a matron of great fame, and very religious in her way; whose constant prayer it was, that she might get enough by her profession to leave it off in time, and make her peace with God: but her fate was not so happy; for, being convicted and set in the pillory, she was (to the lasting shame of all her great friends and votaries) so ill used by the populace, that it put an end to her days. "
Rouquet, the enameller, a Swiss of French extraction (who published in 1746 a French commentary on several of Hogarth's Prints), has a whimsical remark relative to the Clergyman just arrived in London, "Cet Ecclesiastique monté sur un cheval blanc, comme ils affectent ici de l’etre."
The Harlot's Progress, PLATE II.
Our young Heroine is exhibited in this Plate as the mistress of a rich Jew. The characters are marked with the hand of a Master. Quin compared Garrick in Othello to the black boy with the tea-kettle, a circumstance that by no means encouraged our Roscius to continue acting the part. Indeed, when his face was obscured, his chief power of expression was lost; and then, and not till then, was he reduced to a level with several other performers.
The subjects of two Pictures in the room are, David dancing before the ark; and Jonah seated under a gourd. In a pirated copy, printed for G. King, to this latter picture is affixed, on a label, "Jonah, why art thou angry;" and at bottom, one of the two Portraits hanging up in this Plate is superscribed "Clarke," but without authority from Hogarth. That of "Mr. Woolston," originally inscribed by Hogarth on the other Portrait, was also out of its place, as he had written against the Jewish tenets.
The Harlot's Progress, PLATE III.
This Plate exhibits the Heroine in an obscure lodging in the purlieus of Drury-lane. The Pictures which ornament the miserable room are, Abraham offering up Isaac, and a Portrait of the Virgin Mary. Dr. Sacheverell and Mack- heath the highwayman (i.e. Walker the player) are companion prints.
It was the Third Scene in this moral graphic Drama which introduced Hogarth to the notice of the Great. At a Board of Treasury, which was held a day or two after the appearance of that Print, a copy of it was shewn by one of the Lords, as containing, among other excellences, a striking likeness of Sir John Gonson. It gave universal satisfaction: from the Treasury, each Lord repaired to the print-shop for a copy of it, and Hogarth rose completely into fame. This anecdote was related to Mr. John Huggins by Christopher Tilson, Esq. one of the chief Clerks in the Treasury, and at that period Under-secretary of State, who died Aug. 25, 1742, after having enjoyed the former of those offices fifty-eight years.
I should add, however, that Sir John Gonson is not here introduced to be made ridiculous, but is only to be considered as the image of an active Magistrate identified.
That he took a very active part against the ladies of pleasure, is recorded by more than one of their votaries— by Loveling and Gilbert, and Poets of no mean fame. Thus, between the Poet and the Painter, the fame of our harlot-hunting Justice is preserved. But, as a slave anciently rode in the same chariot with the conqueror, the memory of a celebrated Street-robber and Highwayman will descend with that of the Magistrate to posterity; James Dalton's wig-box being placed on the tester of the Harlot's bed.
Sir John Gonson (who died Jan. 9, 1765) was remarkable for the "Charges" which he used to deliver to the Grand Juries, which are said to have been written by Orator Henley. That he was the person intended by Hogarth is evident, from a circumstance in the next Plate, where, on a door in Bridewell, a figure hanging is drawn in chalk, with an inscription over it, "Sir J.G.;" as well as from the following explanation by Rouquet: "The person observed silently entering with a party of constables is a Magistrate, who was greatly distinguished for his zealous persecution of the women of pleasure."
Respecting another circumstance, however, in the third Plate, Rouquet appears to have met with some particular information that has escaped me: "The Author has jocularly seized the opportunity of wrapping a piece of butter for the breakfast-table in the title-page of the ‘Pastoral Letter,’ which an eminent Prelate about that time addressed to his Diocese; and some copies of which had found their way to the chandler's-shop." — Bishop Gibson's "Pastoral Letter" experienced a very different fate.
The Harlot's Progress, PLATE IV.
In this Plate the wretched Female is suffering the chastisement due to her follies; reduced to the wretched alternative of beating hemp, or receiving the correction of a severe task-master.
The following extract from a periodical paper will sufficiently justify the splendid appearance the Harlot makes in Bridewell. Such well-dressed females are rarely met with in our present houses of correction. "Sept 24, 1730. One Mary Muffet, a woman of great note in the hundreds of Drury, who, about a fortnight ago, was committed to hard labour in Tothill-fields Bridewell by nine Justices, brought his Majesty's writ of Habeas Corpus, and was carried before the Right Honourable the Lord Chief Justice Raymond, expecting to have been either bailed or discharged; but, her commitment appearing to be legal, his Lordship thought fit to remand her back to her former place of confinement, where she is now beating hemp in a gown very richly laced with silver."
The Harlot's Progress, PLATE V.
We now see this victim to her own indiscretion breathe her last, in all the extremity of penury and wretchedness. The two Quacks are quarrelling as to who was the cause of her death. The meagre figure is a portrait of Dr. Misaubin, a foreigner, at that time in considerable practice; the other was probably intended either for Dr. Rock or Dr. Ward.
In a despicable Poem, published at the time, these Quacks are called Tan—r and G—m. Over the candles hangs a Jew's cake (a dry, tasteless biscuit, perforated with holes, and formerly given away in great quantities at the Feast of the Passover), which is hung up as a fly-trap.
The Harlot's Progress, PLATE VI.
The adventures of our Heroine are now concluded. She is no longer an actor in her own Tragedy.
If we may trust the metrical performance just quoted, the Bawd in this Plate was designed for Mother Bentley.
The name of Kate Hackabout, which Hogarth has given to his Heroine in Plate III, and on her coffin in this Plate, was that of a woman noted in and about the hundreds of Drury, who was committed to Bridewell in 1730, and whose brother was hanged at Tyburn.
The Parson is called, in one of the pirated copies of it, "The famous Couple-Beggar in the Fleet, a wretch who there screens himself from the justice due to his villanies, and daily repeats them." The woman seated next him was designed for Elizabeth Adams, who, at the age of 30, was afterwards executed for a robbery, Sept. 10, 1737. The common Print of her will justify this assertion.
Rouquet finishes his illustration of the fifth plate by observing, that the story might have been concluded here. "The Author seems here to have completed his design. He has accompanied his Heroine to her last breath. He has conducted her from infamy to poverty, through the seducing paths of libertinism. His desire to recall, or to correct, those whose weakness or ignorance exposes them to similar misfortunes, is well pursued. With this Plate the Tragedy may be said to close; and what follows is a mere After-piece. It is the Farce of which the deceased is rather the occasion than the subject."—Such is the criticism of Rouquet, but I cannot absolutely concur in the justness of it. Hogarth found an opportunity to convey admonition, and enforce his moral, even in his last Plate. It is true that the exploits of our Heroine are concluded, and that she is no longer an agent in her own story. Yet, as a wish prevails, even among those who are most humbled by their own indiscretions, that some respect should be paid to their remains; that they should be conducted by decent friends to the grave, and interred by a Priest who feels for the dead that hope expressed in our Liturgy; let us ask, whether the memory of our Harlot meets with any such marks of social attention, or pious benevolence. Are not the preparations for her funeral licentious, like the course of her life, as if the contagion of her example had reached all the company in the room? Her sisters in iniquity alone surround her coffin; one of them is engaged in the double trade of seduction and thievery; a second is admiring herself in a mirror; a third gazes with unconcern on the corpse. If any of the number appear mournful, they express at best but a maudlin sorrow, having glasses of strong liquor in their hands. The very Minister, forgetful of his office and character, is shamefully employed; nor does a single circumstance occur, throughout the whole scene, that a reflecting female would not wish should be alienated from her own interment.—Such is the Plate which our Illustrator, with too much levity, has styled a farce appended to a tragic representation. He might have exercised his critical abilities with more success on Hogarth's neglect of propriety, though it affords him occasion to display his wit. At the burial of a Wanton, who expired in a garret, no escutcheons were ever hung up, or rings given away; and I much question if any Bawd ever chose to avow that character before a Clergyman, or any Infant was ever habited as a chief mourner to attend a Parent to the grave.
Mr. C. Lamb, in his admirable Essay on the Genius and Character of Hogarth, remarks, "The misemployed incongruous characters at the Harlot's Funeral, on a superficial inspection, provoke to laughter; but, when we have sacrificed the first emotion to levity, a very different frame of mind succeeds, or the Painter has lost half his purpose. I never look at that wonderful assemblage of depraved beings, who, without a grain of reverence or pity in their perverted minds, are performing the sacred exteriors of duty to the relicks of their departed partner in folly, but I am as much moved to sympathy from the very want of it in them, as I should be by the finest representation of a virtuous death-bed, surrounded by real mourners, pious children, weeping friends —perhaps more by the very contrast. What reflections does it awake of the dreadful heartless state in which a creature (a female too) must have lived, who in death wants the accompaniment of one genuine tear! That wretch who is removing the lid of the coffin to gaze upon the corpse, with a face which indicates a perfect negation of all goodness or womanhood—the hypocrite Parson and his demure partner—all the fiendish group—to a thoughtful mind present a moral emblem more affecting than if the poor friendless carcass had been depicted as thrown out to the woods, where wolves had assisted at its obsequies, itself furnishing forth its own funeral banquet.
"The Boy, moreover, winding up his top with so much unpretending insensibility (the only thing in the assembly that is not a hypocrite) quiets and soothes the mind, that has been disturbed at the sight of so much depraved man and woman-kind."
The success of these Plates was unexampled. None were originally printed off, except for the subscribers: immediately after they were supplied, the Plates were re-touched, and several variations introduced.
So great was the eagerness of the publick that the Plates were immediately pirated in various sizes, and circulated in immense numbers. Some wretched explanatory verses made their appearance under the earliest and best of the pirated copies; and Hogarth, finding that such metrical description had its effect, resolved that his next series of Prints should receive the same advantage from an abler hand.
The original Paintings were at Fonthill, the seat of Mr. Beckford; who paid for them 14 guineas each (88l. 4s.); and they were there destroyed by fire in the year 1755.
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"William Hogarth - «The Harlot's Progress»", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), juin 2013. Consulté le 04/03/2024. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/arts/peinture/william-hogarth-the-harlot-s-progress