Abbildungen der Seite

composed to establish has not yet received univer. sal sanction.

Of those who affected to laugh at the Analysis, the bitterest was Wilkes, but the inost eminent was Walpole. “The book," he says, “is the failing of a visionary, whose eyes were so little open to his own deficiencies that he believed he had discovered the principle of grace, and with the enthusiasm of a discoverer cried out, Eureka! This was his famous Line of Beauty, the ground-work of his Analysis, a book which has many sensible hints and observations, but that did not carry the conviction nor meet the general acquiescence he expected. As he treated his contemporaries with scorn, they tri. umphed over him in turn, and imitated him to expose him. Many wretched burlesque prints came out to ridicule his system. There was a better answer to it in one of the two prints that he gave to illustrate his hypothesis. In the ball, had he confined himself to such outlines as compose awkwardness and deformity, he would have proved half his assertion, but he has added two samples of grace in a young lord and lady that are strikingly stiff and affected: they are a Bath beau and a country beauty.” So writes Walpole: the principle of beauty, however, was not necessarily unfounded because the painter failed in creating two figures excelling in beauty and grace, any more than his heart was corrupt and envious because he did not choose to paint a Happy Marriage.

Of what Hogarth himself thought of the excel. lence of his new discovery and the acrimony of his enemies, there is an ample account by his own hand. Í select some characteristic passages. “No Egyptian hieroglyphic ever amused more than my Line of Beauty did for a time. Painters and sculptors came to me to know the meaning of it, being as much puzzled with it as other people, till I ex

plainei it by publishing my Analysis. Then, indeed, and not till then, some found it out to be an old acquaintance of theirs, though the account they could give of its properties was very near as satisfactory as that which a day-labourer who constantly uses the lever could give of that machine as a mechanical power.”—This is the language of a man at peace with himself and satisfied with his success; the following is dictated by a heart much less at ease :

“ My preface and introduction to the Analysis contain a general explanation of the circumstances which led me to commence author ; but this has not deterred my opponents frorn loading me with much gross and, I think, unmerited obloquy. Among other crimes of which I am accused, it is asserted that I have abused the Great Masters ;' this is far from being just. So far from attempting to lower the ancients, I have always thought, and it is universally admitted, that they knew some fundamenta] principles in nature which enabled them to produce works that have been the admiration of succeeding ages; but I have not allowed this merit to those leaden-headed imitators, who, having no consciousness of either symmetry or propriety, have attempted to mend nature, and in their truly ideal figures, gave similar proportions to a Mercury and a Hercules.”

Another and a better spirit influenced himn in the following passage—he is proposing to seek the principles of beauty in nature, instead of looking for them in mere learning. His words are plain, direct, and convincing. « Nature is simple, plain, and true in all her works, and those who strictly adhere to her laws, and closely attend to her appearances in their infinite varieties, are guarded against any prejudicial bias from truth; while those who have seen many things that they cannot well understand, and read many books which they do not fully comprehend, notwithstanding all their parade of knowledge, are apt to wander about it and about it: perplexing themselves and their readers with the various opinions of other men. As to those painters who have written treatises on painting, they were in general too much taken up with giving rules for the operative part of the art, to enter into physical disquisitions on the nature of the objects. With respect to myself, I thought I was sufficiently grounded in the principles of my profession to throw some new lights on the subject, and though the pen was to me a new instrument, yet, as the mechanic at his loom may possibly give as satisfactory an account of the materials and composition of the rich brocade he weaves as the smooth-tongued mercer, surrounded with all his parade and showy silks, I trusted that I might make myself tolerably understood by those who would take the trouble of examining my book and prints together-for, as one makes use of signs to convey his meaning in a language of which he has little knowledge, I have occasionally had recourse to my pencil."

But to fix the fluctuating principles of tastc—the object of the Analysis of Beauty-was a flight be. yond the powers of Hogarth. Every master-spirit that appears on the earth goes to work in his own peculiar way; and though the structures which he raises are founded in nature, yet they differ in the exterior effect and internal arrangement from what has preceded them, as the Gothic architecture differs from the Grecian. The rules which one man lays 'down for composition are overthrown by another, who forms his own laws; and these again are swept away by the next succeeding spirit, as readily as a wave of the sea obliterates words written on its sands. But if any man ever discovered the universal principle on which all works of lasting glory in art are constructed, it seems to have been Hogarth. The great law which he promulgates belongs to universal nature-it was in nature that he found it, and by nature he has explained it. The bird flies, the stream flows, the flower springs, the sun runs his course, and the ocean rolls his waves, all in accordance and conformity with his undulating line of beauty and grace. Men, whose feelings were imbued with nature, wrought by a kind of instinctive inspiration in the right way, when they executed those statues and paintings which continue to astonish the earth. Walpole was astonished to find that an old ballad-maker had obeyed, in Gill Morrice, all the precepts of Horace-without having heard of the poet. In truth, nature dictates what is right to those whose minds are lofty, and who passionately feel the subject of their meditation.

If Hogarth felt annoyed by the petulance of painters and critics, who sought to destroy his reputa

tion, overturn his system, and wound the peace of E his family, he must have been very sensibly grati

fied by the praise which poured in upon him from foreign parts, and from Englishmen of talent and intelligence. Among the latter, Warburton added his testimony to the merits of Hogarth, in the following intrepid words: “I was pleased,” says the Bishop, in a letter to the artist, "that you have de

termined to give us your original and masterly I thoughts on the great principles of your profession.

You owe this to your country, for you are both an honour to your profession, and a shame to that worthless crew professing vertù and connoisseurship; to whom all that grovel in the splendid poverty of wealth and taste are the miserable bubbles.” It would appear from this that Warburton had seen the Analysis before publication. After this it would be unfair to withhold the praise of Benjamin West—a painter, prudent in speech, and frugal in commendation. “I remember, when I was a lad,” says Smith, in his account of Nollekens, “ asking the late venerable President West, what he thought of Hogarth's Analysis of Beauty, I and his answer was, It is a work of the highest value to every one studying the art. Hogarth was a strutting, consequential little man, and made him- ir self many enemies by that book; but now that most of them are dead, it is examined by disinterested readers, unbiassed by personal animosities, and will be more and more read, studied, and understood.''

The collection of pictures belonging to Sir Luke Schaub was dispersed in 1758, by public auction, when Sir Thomas Sebright became the proprietoro of a Sigismunda, imputed to Correggio, for the sum to of £400.—The effect which this circumstance had 8 upon the mind of Hogarth is described by Walpole, in words which I dare not soften and cannot či commend. “From a contempt of the ignoranth vertuosi of the age, and from indignation at the impudent tricks of picture-dealers, whom he saw continually recommending and vending vile copies to bubble-collectors, and fronı having never studied -indeed having seen few good pictures of the 10 great Italian masters, he persuaded himself that the praises bestowed on those glorious works were nothing but the effects of ignorance. He talked this language till he believed it, and having heard it la often asserted, as is true, that time gives a mellow i ness to colours and improves them, he not only denied the proposition, but maintained that pictures of only grew black and worse by age. He went farther-he determined to rival the ancients, and un- th fortunately chose one of the finest pictures in Eng- 80 land as the subject of his competition. This was # the celebrated Sigismunda of Sir Luke Schaub, said of to be painted by Correggio-probably by Furino de but no matter by whom. It is impossible to see the si picture or read Dryden's inimitable tale, and not feel that the same soul animated both. After many pe essays, Hogarth produced his Sigismunda, but io

« ZurückWeiter »