MARRIAGE A-LA-MODE

(HOGARTH)

AUSTIN DOBSON

Nevertheless, if the main circumstances of the painter's career should still remain unaltered, there must always be a side of his work which will continue to need interpretation. In addition to painting the faults and follies of his time, he was pre-eminently the pictorial chronicler of its fashions and its furniture. The follies endure; but the fashions pass away. In our day—a day which has witnessed the demolition of Northumberland House, the disappearance of Temple Bar, and the removal of we know not what other time-honoured and venerated landmarks—much in Hogarth's plates must seem as obscure as the cartouches on Cleopatra's Needle. Much more is speedily becoming so; and without some guidance the student will scarcely venture into that dark and doubtful rookery of tortuous streets and unnumbered houses—the London of the Eighteenth Century.

Marriage A-la-Mode. Hogarth.

Marriage A-la-Mode.
Hogarth.

Were it not beyond the reasonable compass of a methodical memoir, it would be a pleasant task to loiter for a while in that vanished London of Hogarth, of Fielding, of Garrick;—that London of Rocque's famous map of 1746, when "cits" had their country-boxes and "gazebos" at Islington and Hackney, and fine gentlemen their villas at Marybone and Chelsey; when duels were fought in the "fields" behind the British Museum, and there was a windmill at the bottom of Rathbone Place. We should find the Thames swarming with noisy watermen, and the streets with thick-calved Irish chairmen; we should see the old dusky oil-lamps lighted feebly with the oil that dribbled on the Rake when he went to Court; and the great creaking sign-boards that obscured the sky, and occasionally toppled on the heads of his Majesty's lieges beneath. We should note the sluggish kennels and the ill-paved streets; and rejoice in the additional facilities afforded for foot-passengers at the "new Buildings near Hanover Square." We might watch King George II. yawning in his Chapel Royal of St. James's, or follow Queen Caroline of Anspach in her walk on Constitution Hill. Or we might turn into the Mall, which is filled on summer evenings with aBeau-Monde of cinnamon-coloured coats and pink négligés. But the tour of Covent Garden (with its column and dial in the centre) would take at least a chapter, and the pilgrimage of Leicester Fields another. We should certainly assist at the Lord Mayor's Show; and we might, like better folks before us, be hopelessly engulfed in that westward-faring crowd, which, after due warning from the belfry of St. Sepulchre's, swept down the old Tyburn Road on "Execution Day" to see the last of Laurence Shirley, Earl Ferrers, or the highwayman James M'Lean. It is well, perhaps, that our limits are definitely restricted.

Moreover, much that we could do imperfectly with the pen, Hogarth has done imperishably with the graver. Essentially metropolitan in his tastes, there is little notable in the London of his day of which he has not left us some pictorial idea. He has painted the Green Park, the Mall, and Rosamond's Pond. He has shown us Covent Garden and St. James's Street; Cheapside and Charing Cross; Tottenham-Court Road and Hog-Lane, St. Giles. He has shown us Bridewell, Bedlam, and the Fleet Prison. Through a window in one print we see the houses on old London Bridge; in another it is Temple Bar, surmounted by the blackened and ghastly relics of Jacobite traitors. He takes us to a cock-fight in Bird Cage Walk, to a dissection in Surgeons' Hall. He gives us reception-rooms in Arlington Street, counting-houses in St. Mary Axe, sky-parlours in Porridge Island, and night-cellars in Blood-Bowl Alley. He reproduces the decorations of the Rose Tavern or of the Turk's Head Bagnio as scrupulously as the monsters at Dr. Misaubin's museum in St. Martin's Lane, or the cobweb over the poor-box in Mary-le-bone Old Church. The pictures on the walls, the Chinese nondescripts on the shelves, the tables and chairs, the pipes and punch-bowls, nay, the very tobacco and snuff, have all their distinctive physiognomy and prototypes. He gives us, unromanced and unidealized, "the form and pressure," the absolute details and accessories, the actual mise-en-scène, of the time in which he lived.23