« ZurückWeiter »
not very safe to the body, to have interchange of civilities with men whom the saints had ubindoned and the Pope consigned to perdition. We were unable, therefore, either to allure over artists of talent, or to become the purchasers of many works of eminence.'- vol. 1. p. 30.
Now this is a mere gratuitous sally of bigotry, and it has the merit of being made in the teeth of notorious facts.
All history shews that the obstacles to an interchange between this and foreign countries did not proceed altogether from abroad; the alienation and repugnance by which intercourse was retarded, existed as fully and as forcibly amongst us as they could have been found in any part of the Continent. If the Italians looked upon us as being consigned for our heresies to perdition, we certainly balanced the account with them in that respect, for we damned their superstition. The first overtures at reconciliation came from foreigners; Charles I. found no difficulty in accumulating the most precious treasures of art, which constituted the magnificent gallery of Whitehall, and all of which were drawn from Continental countries; he procured without difficulty the Cartoons of Raphael, the masters which formed the celebrated cabinet of the Duke of Mantua, and other pictures of great value, the property of private individuals. But what throws vast light on this part of the subject, is the circumstance of the illustrious Rubens being sent to England in the disguise of an ambassador from the Court of Spain. Here he stayed one year, and produced works which ought to have given a better impulse to the national taste than it appears to have received. Rubens painted the ceiling of the chapel at Whitehall, and left many pictures, which are to be still found in this country amongst private collections. Why was such an artist sent into England not in his proper character, but in the disguise, as we have already said, of an ambassador-for he certainly paid but little attention to his diplomatic functions, whilst he devoted the greater part of his time to the pencil? Are we not justified in assuming that such was the general opinion amongst the Catholic states abroad respecting England, that no artist would venture to come into the country and take the chance of relying on his own merits for the patronage of the nation? The Court of Spain may have thought that foreign skill in the arts, however excellent, would be treated by us as a contraband material, and therefore they resolved to smuggle Rubens in amongst us under the denomination of an ambassador. What gives colour to this supposition is, that from the time of Henry the 8th, almost to the reign of the first king of the House of Hanover, we being all along that interval indebted entirely to foreign countries for eminent artists, those artists came to us principally from Holland, a part of the Continent which enjoyed a sympathy of religion with this country.
We agree with Mr. Cunningham, that Hogarth was the first British artist, in point of time, who can be considered as entitled
to great distinction. But, as being the first to attempt a rivalship with foreigners in the highest walks of art; as being the first to vindicate, in his own person, the power of home-grown talent, -Sir James Thornbill, we confess, appears to us to have merited a more specific and extended notice than that which he has received.
More than one passage in the writings of Hogarth, justify us in concluding that the works of Thornbill had no inconsiderable share in stimulating the ambition of his more eminent successors; the example of an Englishman being permitted to adorn the public institutions of the country, was, in those days, of no small advantage, since, up to Thornhill's time, the secret of excellence in art was popularly' deemed to be inalienably the privilege of foreign masters. Not to dwell, however, upon this point, we gladly follow our author to the history of Hogarth's life, with which the Biographical series commences.
It is the uniform characteristic of every great painter, whose history we are acquainted with, that the very first developinent of his mind discloses a tendency to the pursuit to which his life is afterwards devoted. Hogarth's early years in a particular manner showed the tendency of his genius. Conceiving, in his childhood, a strong prejudice against the avocations of an author, to which be saw his father become almost a victim, young Hogarth was, by his own desire, removed prematurely from school, and bound to a silversmith. But nature had previously indentured him to herself, and instead of cultivating the mysteries of trade, Hogarth, during his apprenticeship, became an expert drawer, and, in consequence of adopting a method peculiarly his own, a very striking and original artist. Connected with the first indication of his turn for satire, we have the following anecdotes.
• Ove summer Sunday during his apprenticeship, he went with three companions to Highgate, and the weather being warm and the way dusty, they went into a public house and called for ale. There happened to be other customers in the house, who to free drinking added fierce talking, and a quarrel ensued. One of them on receiving a blow with the bottom of a quart pot, looked so ludicrously rueful, that Hogarth snatched out a pencil and sketched him as he stooci. It was very like and very laughable, and contributed to the restoration of order and good humour. On another occasion he strolled, with Hayman the painter, into a cellar, where two women of loose life were quarrelling in their cups. One of them filled her mouth with brandy and spirted it dexterously in the eyes of her antagonist. “ See! see!" said Hogarth, taking out his tablets and sketching her“ look at the brimstone's mouth.” This virago figures in Modern Midnight Conversation.'-- vol. i. p. 63.
Our author, with unnecessary warmth, strives to shield Hogarth from the charges, we suppose we must call them, of want of education as well as poverty, in his early days. The dispute, after all, is one of words. It is Hogarth’s glory that he was self-taught in art, and that he was the architect of his own fortunes.
ried the daughter of Sir James Thornhill, and commenced a life of sedulous application, which was ultimately crowned by opulence and fame. The details of Hogarth's history are minutely contributed by Ireland, Nichols, and that liveliest writer of his day, Walpole. The popularity of those works would make it almost impertinent in us to follow the story step by step. Hogarth was driven into the portrait department by those circumstances peculiar to our country, to which every son of genius, from Reynolds to Lawrence, has been compelled to yield. But in this walk of art our hero found a stumbling-block. He was scrupulously faithful in his representations, and retained a wrinkle in his portraits as conscientiously as he painted a charming dimple. But he soon discovered the inconveniences of his fidelity.' Disgusted, he happily directed his genius to a new and undiscovered branch of his art. Before Ho. garth's day no one had supposed that there existed, between the sublime and the grotesque, in the historical style, "an intermediate species of subjects," as he calls them, subjects of a modern kind and moral nature, in effect the characters of a genteel comedy transferred to the canvas. “ I have endeavoured," says Hogarth, “ to treat my subjects as a dramatic writer; my picture is my stage, my men and women my players, who, by means of certain actions and gestures, are to exhibit a dumb show.” We have no doubt, however, that Hogarth's ambition was to succeed in what was called the grand style, and to have contended with the severity and dignity of the Italian masters. We are persuaded, likewise, that Hogarth's genius would have fully seconded his ambition. Walpole declares that the burlesque turn of the painter's mind would have inevitably prevented him from succeeding in the historical style. But this remark is far from being just. Humour and pathos are faculties of the same family. The inclination of Hogarth to pursue the grotesque instead of the pathetic, arose from necessity perhaps more than choice. He shut himself out from portraiture by his own inflexibility, and from the dignified style of historical painting be was equally excluded by the apathy of bis countrymen. We therefore look upon Hogarth's peculiar style as the nearest approach it was possible for him to make, under the circumstances, to the noble character of the Italian school, Tbe “ Pool of Bethesda," the “Good Samaritan," “ Moses presented to Pharoah's Daughter,” and ( St. Paul before Festus and Agrippa,” with which last painting Mr. Cunningham seems to be unacquainted, although it is suspended in one of the most frequented rooms of this metropolis--Lincolu's Inn Hall--sufficiently attest the will and the ability of Hogarth to succeed in the grand style. But do not his other pictures bear witness as strongly to his great powers in the serious and pathetic style? It is much the habit, even of his biographers, to praise Hogarth for his satire alone, as if in, even his most ludicrous pictures, there was not to be found some figure or incident calculated deeply to affect the
human heart. What eloquent beauty has he conferred upon even the lowest of his female characters; how often, amidst the revelry of that laughter which the general effect of one of his pictorial comedies never fails to produce, are we arrested by the sight of a child, or baby, with a sweet innocent expression, diffusing a charming tenderness over the whole scene. They who have seen and studied the celebrated March to Finchley, cannot fail to remember the infant sitting on its mother's lap, and how its pure and benign aspect soothes the rough and repulsive features of the French priest, that is close by. A similar stroke of art is recognised in the wonderful “Last Supper,” of Da Vinci. In contemplating that enthralling scene, where every figure contributes a distinct part of a mournful and most painful history, the heart of the spectator is ready to sink with the contending emotions which the sight of so much treachery, so much baseness and dissimulation triumphing over so much innocence and benevolence, must excite, until his eye, passing from the human forms before him, lights on a scene of sweet rural beauty, that is just visible through a casement in the distance, and under its balmy influence for a moment he feels exquisite relief. These are contrivances which sovereign genius alone can tell how to conceive, and when to apply. Nothing like justice, with reference to this great beauty of Hogarth, is rendered to him by our author, who, if he desired thoroughly to vindicate the illustrious painter against the charge of being deficient in the power to succeed in the grand and pathetic style, might have selected for that purpose, not, indeed, the Harlot's Progress, but even a picture which is generally supposed to be the most remote of any of Hogarth's works from the grand and pathetic. Gin Lane has always appeared to us a scene of appalling terror. The corruption of a plague seems to have wasted even the physical world around; the figures, the dead, the dying, the shell, &c., all contribute to a most powerful effect. The artist, not satisfied with the impressions of horror which a single action is able to produce, adds even to these, by exhibiting a new and unexpecied sight of woe in the thin funeral procession, that is seen through a break in the wall at a distance.
We do not know that we have ever seen a better account, we mean as to copiousness and minute fidelity of description, of Hogarth's multitudinous works, than is to be found in the volumes before us. We should, perhaps, be justified in saying that this account is extended far too minutely in reference to the proportion which it bears to the history, more immediately personal, of Hogarth's life. There is nothing very new, or very pointed in the critical observations of our author; but they who are desirous of becoming acquainted with those immortal specimens of genius, which Hogarth has left behind him, cannot consult a better guide than Mr. Cunningham. Amongst the enemies whom Hogarth's satirical vein had excited against him, was the famous Wilkes, of VOL. XII
whose quarrel we happen to have a version from each of the combatants. Wilkes published the following account in the Patriot :
““ Wilkes (says the Patriot) was waging open war with the Scottish minister, Lord Bute, when Hogarth sacrificed private friendship at the altar of party madness, and lent his aid to the government. A friend informed him that the painter was about to publish a print, satirizing Pitt, Temple, Churchill, and himself. He remonstrated, and remarked, that the subjects suitable for his pencil were those of an universal or moral nature. The answer was, that neither Wilkes nor Churchill were included in the satire, though Pitt and Temple were. On this Wilkes informed Hogarth that he should never resent reflections on himself, but if his friends were attacked, he should then deem himself wounded in the most sensible part, and avenge their cause as well as he was able. The Times appeared, and was instantly followed by an attack in the North Briton on The King's Serjeant-Painter, William Hogarth.'”
• When the venomous article in the North Briton appeared, Hogarth, who had not then attacked Wilkes, felt deeply the insinuations which it contained, both in a domestic and a loyal sense, and sought immediate revenge. What the pen was to the politician, the pencil was to the artist, and he accordingly produced that celebrated piece, which can scarcely be called a caricature, since it represents strongly, but truly, the bodily and mental image of John Wilkes. The artist has placed in the civic chair this patron saint of purity and liberty-a mark for perpetual laughter and loathing. For what he thought of his work we have his own words. “ My friends advised me,” says Hogarth,“ to laugh at the nonsense of party writing—who would miúd it? But I could not rest,
And makes me poor indeed.' Such being my feelings, I wished to return the compliment, and turn it to some advantage. This renowned patriot's portrait, drawn as like as I could as to features, and marked with some indications of his mind, answered my purpose. The ridiculous was apparent to every eye. A Brutusa saviour of his country—with such an aspect—was so arrant a farce, that, though it gave rise to much laughter in the lookers-on, it galled both him and his adherents. This was proved by the papers being crammed every day with invectives against the artist, till the town grew sick of thus seeing me always at full length. Churchill, Wilkes's toadeater, put the North Briton into verse in an Epistle to Hogarth ; but as the abuse was precisely the same, except a little poetical heightening, it made no impression, but perhaps effaced or weakened the black strokes of the North Briton. However, having an old plate by me, with some parts ready sunk as the background and a dog, i began to consider how I could turn so much work laid aside to some account-and so patched up a print of Master Churchill, in the character of a bear. The pleasure and pecuniary advantage derived from these two engravings, together with occasionally riding on horseback, restored me to as much health as can be expected at my time of life.” '- vol. i. pp. 161, 164.
The account which is handed down to us of the pt.onal cha