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.

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

But he has done much more than this. He has peopled his canvas with its dramatis personæ,—with vivid portraits of the more strongly-marked actors in that cynical and sensual, brave and boastful, corrupt and patriotic age. Not, be it understood, with its Wolfes and Johnsons,—he was a humourist and a satirist, and goodness was no game for his pencil,—rather with its Lovats and Chartres, its Sarah Malcolms and its Shebbeares. He was a moralist after the manner of eighteenth-century morality, not savage like Swift, not ironical like Fielding, not tender-hearted at times like Johnson and Goldsmith; but unrelenting, uncompromising, uncompassionate. He drew vice and its consequences in a thoroughly literal and business-like way, neither sparing nor extenuating its details, wholly insensible to its seductions, incapable of flattering it even for a moment, preoccupied simply with catching its precise contortion of pleasure or of pain. In all his delineations, as in that famous design of Prud'hon's, we see Justice and Vengeance following hard upon the criminal....

A hint of the new series had already been given in the Battle of the Pictures, where the second scene, still inoffensively reposing upon the easel, is wantonly assaulted by a copy of the Aldobrandini Marriage. In April following the set of engravings was issued, the subscription ticket being the etching of heads known as Characters and Caricaturas. Plates I. and VI. were engraved by Scotin, Plates II. and III. by Baron, and Plates IV. and V. by Ravenet. Exactly two years earlier, Hogarth had heralded them by the following notification in the London Daily Post, and General Advertiser of April 2nd, 1743:

"Mr. Hogarth intends to publish by Subscription, six prints from Copper-Plates, engrav'd by the best Masters in Paris, after his own Paintings; representing a Variety of Modern Occurrences in High-Life, and called Marriage A-la-Mode. Particular Care will be taken, that there may not be the least Objection to the Decency or Elegancy of the whole Work, and that none of the Characters represented shall be personal." Then follow the terms of subscription. The last quoted lines are probably a bark at some forgotten detraction, and if not actually ironical, doubtless about as sincere as Fielding's promise, in the Prologue to his first comedy, not to offend the ladies. Those who had found inelegancy and indecency in the previous productions of the painter, would still discover the same defects in the masterpiece he now submitted to the public. And although it may be said that the "characters" represented are not "personal" in a satirical sense, his precautions, as he himself tells us, "did not prevent a likeness being found for each head, for a general character will always bear some resemblance to a particular one."

But what, no doubt, interested his critical contemporaries even more than these preliminary protestations, was the painter's promise to represent, in his new work, "a variety of modern occurrences in high-life." Here, it may be admitted, was a proposition which certainly savoured of temerity. What could one whose pencil had scarcely travelled beyond the limits of St. Giles's, know of the inner secrets of St. James's? A Hervey or a Beauclerk, or even a Fielding, might have sufficed; but a Hogarth of Leicester Fields, whose only pretence to distinction (as High Life conceives it) was that he had run away with Thornhill's handsome daughter,—what special title had he to depict that charmed region of cards and folly, ringed with its long-resounding knockers, and flambeau-carrying footmen! This was, however, to reckon without genius, which over-leaps loftier barriers than these. It is true that the English Novel of Manners, which has since stimulated so many artists, had only just made its appearance; and Pamela and Joseph Andrews but falteringly foreshadowed Clarissa and Tom Jones. Yet there is nothing in the story of Marriage A-la-Mode which was beyond the powers of a spectator ab extra, always provided he were fairly acquainted with the Modelys and Wildairs of the stage, and the satires of Johnson and Pope. The plot, like that of all masterpieces, is extremely simple. An impoverished nobleman who marries his son to a rich citizen's daughter; a husband who, pursuing his own equivocal pleasures, resigns his wife to the temptations of opportunity; a foregone sequel and a tragic issue:—this material is of the oldest, and could make but slender claim to originality. Submitted to Colman or Garrick as the scenario of a play for Yates and Mrs. Woffington, it would probably have been rejected as pitifully threadbare. Yet combined and developed under the brush of Hogarth, set in an atmosphere that makes it as vivid as nature itself, decorated with surprising fidelity, and enlivened by all the resources of the keenest humour, it passes out of the line of mere transcripts of life, and, retaining the merits of the specific and particular, becomes a representative and typical work, as articulate to-day, as direct and unhesitating in its teaching, as it was when it was first offered to the world.

How well-preserved, even now, these wonderful pictures are! It would almost seem as if Time, unreasoning in his anger, had determined to ignore in every way the audacious artist who treated him with such persistent indignity. Look at them in the National Gallery. Look, too, at the cracks and fissures in the Wilkies, the soiled rainbows of Turner,—the bituminous riding-habit of Lady Douro in Sir Edwin's Story of Waterloo. But these paintings of William Hogarth are well-nigh as fresh to-day as when, new from the easel, they found their fortunate purchaser in Mr. Lane of Hillingdon. They are not worked like a Denner, it is true, and the artist is often less solicitous about his method than about the result of it; yet they are soundly, straight-forwardly, and skilfully executed. Lady Bingley's red hair, Carestini's nostril, are shown in the simplest and directest manner. Everywhere the desired effect is exactly produced, and without effort. Take, as an illustration, the inkstand in the first scene, with its bell and sand-caster. In these days it would be a patient trompe-l'œil, probably better done than the figures using it. Here it is merely indicated, not elaborated; it holds its exact place as a piece of furniture, and nothing more. And at this point it may be observed that if in the ensuing descriptions we should speak of colour, the reader will remember we are describing, not the performances of Messrs. Ravenet and the rest, but Hogarth's original pictures at Trafalgar Square. It is the more necessary to bear this in mind, because, besides being reversed, the paintings frequently differ in detail from the engravings.

The first of the series represents the signing of the marriage contract. The scene, as the artist is careful to signify by the ostentatious coronets on the furniture and accessories (they are to be discerned even on the crutches), is laid in the house of an earl, who, with his gouty foot swathed in flannels, seems with a superb—if somewhat stiff-jointed—dignity to be addressing certain pompous observations respecting himself and his pedigree (dating from William the Conqueror) to a sober-looking personage opposite, who, horn-spectacles on nose, is peering at the endorsement of the "Marriage Settlem^t of the R^t Hon^ble. Lord Vincent [Squanderfield]."24 This second figure, which is that of a London merchant, with its turned-in toes, the point of the sword-sheath between the legs, and the awkward constraint of its attitude, forms an admirable contrast to the other. A massive gold chain denotes the wearer to be an alderman. Between the two is a third person, perhaps the merchant's confidential clerk or cashier, who holds out a "Mortgage" to the Earl. Gold and notes lie upon the table, where are also an inkstand, sealing-wax, and a lighted candle in which a "thief" is conspicuous. At the back of this trio is the betrothed couple—the earl's son and the alderman's daughter. It is, in fact, an alliance of sacs et parchemins, in which the young people are involved rather than interested. The lady, who looks young and pretty in her bridal-dress, wears a mingled expression of mauvaise honte and distaste for her position, and trifles with the ring, which she has strung upon her handkerchief, while a brisk and well-built young lawyer, who trims a pen, bends towards her with a whispered compliment. Meantime the Viscount—a frail, effeminate-looking figure, holding an open snuff-box, from which he affectedly lifts a pinch—turns from hisfiancée with a smirk of complacent foppery towards a pier-glass at his side. His wide-cuffed coat is light blue, his vest is loaded with embroidery. He wears an enormous solitaire, and has high red heels to his shoes. Before him, in happy parody of the ill-matched pair, are two dogs in coupling-links:—the bitch sits up, alert and curious, her companion is lying down. The only other figure is that of an old lawyer, who, with a plan in his hand, and a gesture of contempt or wonder, looks through an open window at an ill-designed and partly-erected building, in front of which several idle servants are lounging or sitting. Like Pope's "Visto," the Earl has "a taste," and his taste, interrupted for the moment by lack of funds, is the ruinous one of bricks and mortar.

The pictures on the wall exemplify and satirize the fashion of the time. The largest is a portrait in the French style of one of the earl's ancestors, who traverses the canvas triumphantly. A cannon explodes below him, a comet is seen above; and in his right hand, notwithstanding his cuirass and voluminous Queen-Anne peruke, he brandishes the thunderbolt of Jupiter. Judith and Holofernes, St. Sebastian, The Murder of Abel, David and Goliath, The Martyrdom of St. Laurence, are some of the rest, all of which, it is perhaps needless to note, belong to those "dismal dark subjects, neither entertaining nor ornamental," against which we have already heard the painter inveigh. Upon the ceiling, with a nice sense of decorative fitness, is Pharaoh in the Red Sea. From a sconce at the side, a Gorgon surveys the proceedings with astonishment. Hogarth has used a similar idea in the Strolling Actresses, where the same mask seems horrified at the airy freedom of the lightly-clad lady who there enacts the part of Diana.

In the picture of the Contract, the young people and "Counsellor Silvertongue," as he has been christened by the artist, are placed in close proximity. These are the real actors in the drama. Building immemor sepulcri, the old earl had but few years to live. Henceforth he is seen no more; and the alderman reappears only at the end of the story....

We have only dealt briefly with these concluding pictures, the decorations and accessories of which are to the full as minute and effective as those of the one that precede them. The furniture of the bagnio, with its portrait of Moll Flanders humorously continued by the sturdy legs of a Jewish soldier in the tapestry Judgment of Solomon behind, the half-burned candle flaring in the draught of the open door and window, the reflection of the lantern on the ceiling and the shadow of the tongs on the floor, the horror-stricken look on the mask of the lady and the satanic grin on that of her paramour, all deserve notice. So do the gross Dutch pictures in the alderman's house, the sordid pewter plates and the sumptuous silver goblet, the stained table-cloth, the egg in rice, and the pig's head which the half-starved and ravenous dog is stealing. There is no defect of invention, no superfluity of detail, no purposeless stroke in this "owre true tale." From first to last it progresses steadily to its catastrophe by a forward march of skilfully linked and fully developed incidents. It is like a novel of Fielding on canvas; and it seems inconceivable that, with this magnificent work en évidence, the critics of that age should have been contented to re-echo the opinion of Walpole that "as a painter Hogarth had but slender merit," and to cackle the foot-rule criticisms of the Rev. William Gilpin as to his ignorance of composition. But so it was. Not until that exhibition of his works at the British Institution in 1814, was it thoroughly understood how excellent and individual both as a designer and a colourist was this native artist, whom "Picture-dealers, Picture-cleaners, Picture-frame-makers, and other Connoisseurs"—to use his own graphically ironical words—had been allowed to rank below the third-rate copyists of third-rate foreigners.

Beyond the remark that the "jaded morning countenance" of the Viscount in Scene II. "lectures on the vanity of pleasure as audibly as anything in Ecclesiastics," Lamb's incomparable essay in The Reflectormakes no material reference to Marriage A-la-Mode. His comments, besides, are confined to the engravings. But Hazlitt, who saw the pictures in the above-mentioned exhibition in 1814, devotes much of his criticism to the tragedy of the Squanderfields, chiefly, it would seem, because Lamb had left the subject untouched. Hazlitt's own studies as an artist, his keen insight and his quick enthusiasm, made him a memorable critic of Hogarth, whose general characteristics he defines with admirable exactitude. Much quotation has made his description of the young Lord and Counsellor Silvertongue sufficiently familiar. But he is equally good in his vignette of the younger woman in the episode at the Quack Doctor's, a creation which he rightly regards as one of Hogarth's most successful efforts. "Nothing," he says, "can be more striking than the contrast between the extreme softness of her person and the hardened indifference of her character. The vacant stillness, the docility to vice, the premature suppression of youthful sensibility, the doll-like mechanism of the whole figure, which seems to have no other feeling but a sickly sense of pain—show the deepest insight into human nature, and into the effects of those refinements in depravity, by which it has been good-naturedly asserted that 'vice loses half its evil in losing all its grossness.'" In the death of the Countess, again, he speaks thus of two of the subordinate characters:—"We would particularly refer to the captious, petulant self-sufficiency of the apothecary, whose face and figure are constructed on exact physiognomical principles, and to the fine example of passive obedience, and non-resistance in the servant, whom he is taking to task, and whose coat of green and yellow livery is as long and melancholy as his face. The disconsolate look, the haggard eyes, the open mouth, the comb sticking in the hair, the broken gapped teeth, which, as it were, hitch in an answer—everything about him denotes the utmost perplexity and dismay." Some other of Hazlitt's comments are more fanciful, as, for example, when he compares Lady Squanderfield's curl papers (in the "Toilet Scene") to a "wreath of half-blown flowers," and those of the macaroni-amateur to "a chevaux-de-frise of horns, which adorn and fortify the lack-lustre expression and mild resignation of the face beneath." With his condemnation of the attitude of the husband, in the scene at the "Turk's Head Bagnio," as "one in which it would be impossible for him to stand, or even fall," it is difficult to coincide; and it is an illustration of the contradictions of criticism that this very figure should have been selected for especial praise, with particular reference to the charges made against the painter of defective drawing, by another critic who was not only as keenly sympathetic as Hazlitt, but was probably a better anatomist—the author of Rab and his Friends.

To Hazlitt's general estimate of Hogarth we shall not now refer. But his comparison of Hogarth and Wilkie may fairly be summarized in this place, because it contains so much excellent discrimination of the former. Wilkie, Hazlitt contends, is a simple realist; Hogarth is a comic painter. While one is a "serious, prosaic, literal narrator of facts," the other is a moral satirist, "exposing vice and folly in their most ludicrous points of view, and, with a profound insight into the weak sides of character and manners in all their tendencies, combinations, and contrasts.... He is carried away by a passion for the ridiculous. His object is not so much 'to hold the mirror up to nature' as 'to show vice her own feature, scorn her own image.' He is so far from contenting himself with still-life that he is always on the verge of caricature, though without ever falling into it. He does not represent folly or vice in its incipient, or dormant, or grub state; but full-grown, with wings, pampered into all sorts of affectation, airy, ostentatious, and extravagant.... There is a perpetual collision of eccentricities—a tilt and tournament of absurdities; the prejudices and caprices of mankind are let loose, and set together by the ears, as in a bear-garden. Hogarth paints nothing but comedy or tragi-comedy. Wilkie paints neither one nor the other. Hogarth never looks at any object but to find out a moral or a ludicrous effect. Wilkie never looks at any object but to see that it is there.... In looking at Hogarth, you are ready to burst your sides with laughing at the unaccountable jumble of odd things which are brought together; you look at Wilkie's pictures with a mingled feeling of curiosity and admiration at the accuracy of the representation." The distinction thus drawn is, in the main, a just one. Yet, at certain points, Wilkie comes nearer to Hogarth than any other English artist; and that elegant amateur, Sir George Howland Beaumont, reasoned rightly when he judged the painter of The Village Politicians to be, in his day, the only fit recipient of Hogarth's mahl-stick.

To return to Marriage A-la-Mode. Notwithstanding that the pictures were, as stated at the beginning of this chapter, announced for sale in 1745, it was five years before they actually found a purchaser, although, in the interval, they seem to have been freely exhibited both at the "Golden Head" and at Cock's Auction Rooms. In 1750, however, they were at last disposed of by another of those unfortunate schemes devised by Hogarth for disposing of his works. The bidding, said the announcement in the Daily Advertiser, was to be by written notes; no dealers in pictures were to be admitted as bidders; and the highest bidder at noon on the 6th June was to be the purchaser.

Whether this mode of sale, coupled with the characteristic manner of its notification, "disobliged the Town" or not, it is impossible to say; but it is certain that when Mr. Lane, "of Hillingdon, near Uxbridge," who was to become the lucky proprietor of the pictures, arrived on the date appointed at the "Golden Head," he found he was the only bidder who had put in an appearance.25 In fact, there was no one in the room but the painter himself and his friend Dr. Parsons, Secretary to the Royal Society. The highest written offer having been declared to be £120, Mr. Lane, shortly before twelve, said he would "make the pounds guineas," but subsequently much to his credit, offered the artist a delay of some hours to find a better purchaser. An hour passed, and as, up to that time, no one had appeared, Hogarth, much mortified, surrendered the pictures to Mr. Lane, who thus became the owner of the artist's best work, and the finest pictorial satire of the century, for the modest sum of £126, which included Carlo Marratti frames that had cost Hogarth four guineas a-piece. Mr. Lane, who readily promised not to sell or clean the pictures without the knowledge of the painter, left them at his death to his nephew, Colonel J.F. Cawthorne, by whom they were put up to auction in March, 1792, but were bought in again for 910 guineas. In 1797 they were sold at Christie's for £1,381 to Mr. John Julius Angerstein, with the rest of whose collection they were acquired in 1824 for the National Gallery.

William Hogarth (New York and London, 1891).


23 "It was reserved to Hogarth to write a scene of furniture. The rake's levee-room, the nobleman's dining-room, the apartments of the husband and wife in Marriage A-la-Mode, the alderman's parlour, the poet's bed-chamber, and many others, are the history of the manners of the age." So says Horace Walpole (Anecdotes, etc., 1771, p. 74), and in this, at least, he was an unimpeachable authority.

24 The name is added in the print.

25 Not the "sole bidder," as Allan Cunningham and others have inferred. If this were so, in "making the pounds guineas," Mr. Lane would be bidding against himself, a thing which occasionally occurs at auctions, but is not recommended. We have failed to find any other account of this transaction than that supplied to Nichols for his second edition of 1782, pp. 225-7, by Mr. Lane himself, which is summarized above. Cunningham seems to have derived his information from the same source; but he strangely transforms it. We can but surmise that he followed Ireland's transcript, in which the highest bid is given as £110, instead of £120—a rather unfortunate mistake, for it appears to have misled a good many people.