William Hogarth - «The Rake's Progress»
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.
"The fortune which our Adventurer has just received enables him to make one push more at the gaming-table. He is exhibited in the Sixth Print, venting curses on his folly for having lost the last stake. This is, upon the whole, perhaps, the best Print of the set. The horrid scene it describes was never more inimitably drawn. The composition is artful and natural. If the shape of the whole be not quite pleasing, the figures are so well grouped, and with so much ease and variety, that you cannot take offence."
In this Plate the fire breaking out alludes to the same accident which happened at White's in the year 1733. The original sketch in oil for this scene was in 1782 at Mrs. Hogarth's house in Leicester Fields: the principal character, the Rake, was then sitting, and not, as he is at present, thrown upon his knees, in the act of execration. A Nobleman in the corner is giving his Note to an Usurer.
A very indifferent set of verses, descriptive of this Plate, introduces the name of the celebrated Mr. John Manners, the only person of his time who amassed a considerable fortune at the gaming-table; and William Cavendish, the third Duke of Devonshire, who lost, by play, the great estate of Leicester Abbey.
"The Seventh Plate, which gives us the view of a gaol, has very little in it. Many of the circumstances which may well be supposed to increase the misery of a confined Debtor are well contrived; but the fruitful genius of Hogarth, I should think, might have treated the subject in a more copious manner. The episode of the fainting woman might have given way to many circumstances more proper to the occasion. This is the same woman whom the Rake discards in the First Print; by whom he is rescued in the Fourth; who is present at his marriage; who follows him into gaol; and, lastly, to Bedlam. In the principal figure there is great expression; and the fainting scene is well described. A scheme to pay off the National Debt by a man who cannot pay his own, and the attempt of a silly Rake to retrieve his affairs by a work of genius, are admirable strokes of humour."
Beccaria, in his Essay on Public Happiness, vol.II. p.172, says, "Hogarth has represented, in one of his moral Engravings, a young man, who, after having squandered away his fortune, is by his creditors lodged in a gaol. There he sits, melancholy and disconcerted, near a table, whilst a scroll lies under his feet, and bears the following title: "Being a new scheme for paying the Debt of the Nation. By T. L. now a Prisoner in the Fleet."
The Author of the Poem already alluded to intimates that the man in the night-gown was intended for Mr. John Law, the famous Financier.
Mr. Lamb, in his Essay, gives the first place in all Hogarth's Works to the face of the broken-down Rake in this Plate, for serious expression; and prefers it to Sir Joshua Reynolds's Ugolino, or Cardinal Beaufort. "Here all is easy, natural, undistorted; but withal what a mass of woe is here accumulated!—the long history of a mis-spent life is compressed into the countenance as plainly as the series of Plates before had told it: here is grief kept to a man's self; a face retiring; from notice with the shame which great anguish sometimes brings with it; final leave taken of hope, the coming-on of vacancy and stupefaction; a beginning alienation of mind, looking like tranquillity. Here is matter for the mind of the beholder to feed on for the hour together; matter to feed and fertilize the mind. It is too real to admit one thought about the power of the Artist who did it."
"The Eighth Plate brings the fortune of our Hero to a conclusion. It is a very expressive representation of the most horrid scene which human nature can exhibit. The composition is not bad. The groupe in which the Lunatic is chained is well managed; and if it had been carried a little farther towards the middle of the Picture, and the two women (who seem very oddly introduced) had been removed, both the composition and the distribution of light had been good. The drawing of the principal figure is a more accurate piece of Anatomy than we commonly find in the works of this Master. The fertile genius of the Artist has introduced as many of the causes of Madness as he could well have collected; but there is some tautology. There are two Religionists, and two Astronomers: yet there is a variety in each; and strong expression in all the characters. The self-satisfaction, and conviction, of him who has discovered the Longitude; the mock majesty of the Monarch; the moody melancholy of the Lover; and the superstitious horror of the Popish Devotee; are all admirable. The perspective is simple and proper. These remarks are made upon the early impressions of these Plates. When they were much worn, they were altered in many parts. They have gained by the alterations in point of design, but have lost in point of expression."
In this Plate (which appears in three different states) is a half-penny reversed (struck in the year 1763), and fixed against the wall, intimating that Britannia herself was fit only for a mad-house. This was a circumstance inserted by our Artist (as he advertised) about a year before his death.
The faces of the two females are changed. That of the woman with a fan is entirely altered; she has now a cap on, instead of a hood, and is turned, as if speaking to the other.
The man with his hands clasped, sitting near the words "Charming Betty Careless," is supposed to be a Portrait of William Ellis, who went mad for love, and was confined in Bedlam. There is a Portrait of him extant.
The man drawing lines against the wall, just over the half-penny, alludes to Whiston's proposed method of discovering the Longitude, by the firing of bombs, as here represented.
The reclining figure in the right-hand comer appears to have been taken from one of Cibber's admirable Statues at Bedlam; and the face of the Rake himself is thought to have been copied from the other Statue.
In this last scene, the Rake is attended by the faithful and kind-hearted Female whom he so basely betrayed. In the first Plate he refuses her his promised hand. In the fourth she releases him from the harpy fangs of a Bailiff. She is present at his marriage. She follows him to prison; and, wishing to soothe his misery, she attends him in a Mad-house! What a return for deceit and desertion!
Many remarkable coincidences in this set of Prints with passages in Classic Authors, which Hogarth could not have read, are pointed out in the "Clavis Hogarthiana."
The original Paintings of the Rake's Progress were purchased by Mr. Beckford for 22 guineas each (£184. 16s.), and placed at Fonthill, where they were preserved from the fire which in 1755 destroyed the Paintings of the Harlot's Progress. They were sold at Mr. Christie's, Feb. 27, 1802, for 580 guineas, to Mr. Soane the Architect.
Pour citer cette ressource :
"William Hogarth - «The Rake's Progress»", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), juin 2013. Consulté le 02/12/2023. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/arts/peinture/william-hogarth-the-rake-s-progress