William Hogarth occupies a curious position in the history of English painting. There was nothing ever quite like him in any country—except Greuze in France; for though a comparison between two such opposites, seems at first sight absurd, it must be remembered that French and English painting in the middle of the eighteenth century were no less far apart. Both Greuze and Hogarth, in their own fashion, tried to preach moral lessons in paint, the one in the over-refined atmosphere of French surroundings, the other in the coarse language of England in his time.

Hogarth's chief characteristic was his blunt, honest, bull-dog Englishness, which at the particular moment of his appearance on the artistic stage was a quality which was eminently serviceable to English painting. Though of humble parents, his honest and forceful character won for him the daughter of Sir James Thornhill in marriage (by elopement) and his sturdy talent in painting secured for him his father-in-law's forgiveness and encouragement. Thornhill came of a good, old Wiltshire family, and had been knighted by George I. for his sterling merits as much as for his skill in painting and decorating the royal palaces and the houses of noblemen. His place among English artists is not a very high one, but he deserves the credit of having stood out against the monopoly that was being established by foreigners in this country in every department of artistic work, and in this sense he is a still earlier forerunner of the great English painters, than his more forcible son-in-law.

If Hogarth had been content to follow the beaten track of portraiture as his main pursuit, and let the country's morals take care of themselves, he would in all probability have attained much greater heights as a painter. But his nature would not allow him to do this. His character was too strong and his originality too uncontrollable. There is enough evidence among the works which have survived him, especially in those which were never finished, to show that his accomplishments in oil painting were of a very high order indeed. I need only refer to the famous head in the National Gallery known as The Shrimp Girl to explain what I mean. In this surprisingly vivacious and charming sketch we see something that is not inferior to Hals, in its broad truth and its quick seizure of the essentials of what had to be rendered. In another unfinished piece, which is now in the South London Art Gallery at Camberwell, we see the same powerful qualities differently exhibited, for it is not a single head this time, but a sketch of a ballroom where everybody is dancing, except one gentleman who is even more vivid than the rest, in the act of mopping his head at the open window. There is nothing grotesque in this picture, but it is all perfectly life-like and wonderfully sketched in.

In his finished pictures Hogarth does not appear to such great advantage—I mean as a painter; but it must be remembered that in his day there was little example for him to follow in the higher departments of his art. Nor had he ever been out of England to see fine pictures on the Continent. Not only this, but as his work was intended especially to appeal to ordinary people, it is hardly to be expected that he would express himself in terms other than might most quickly appeal to them. His most famous works, indeed, were executed as well as designed for the engraver, namely The Harlot's Progress, The Rake's Progress, Marriage à la Mode, and The Election, each of which consisted of a series of several minutely finished pictures. In portraiture he showed finer qualities, it is true; but even in these he was thinking more of getting the most out of his model, according to his forcible character, than of any technical refinements for which he might be handed down to posterity as a great painter.

It was easy enough for Reynolds to sneer at Hogarth for his vulgarity, when he was trying to impress upon his pupils the importance of painting in the grand style. "As for the various departments of painting," he says in his third Discourse, "which do not presume to make such high pretensions, they are many. None of them are without their merit, though none enter into competition with this universal presiding idea of the art. The painters who have applied themselves more particularly to low and vulgar characters, and who express with precision the various shades of passion as they are exhibited by vulgar minds (such as we see in the works of Hogarth), deserve great praise; but as their genius has been employed on low and confined subjects, the praise which we must give must be as limited as its object." And yet it was in following an example set by Hogarth in portrait painting that Reynolds gained his

National Gallery, London

first success in that art. I mean the full-length portrait of Captain Keppel, painted in 1752. This originality and boldness in disregarding the tame but universal convention in posing the sitter was peculiarly Hogarth's own. With him it amounted almost to perverseness. He would not let anybody "sit" to him, if he could help it. When he did, as in the portraits of Quinn, the actor, and Hoadly, Bishop of Winchester, in the National Gallery, the result is not the happiest; for, with all their force, these portraits lack the grace that a conventional pose requires to render it acceptable in the terms of its convention. If a man must put on the accepted evening dress of his time, he must see that it conforms in the spirit as well as in the letter of the fashion, or he will only look like a dressed-up greengrocer. Hogarth was too sturdy and too wilful to put on court clothes. If he had to, he struggled with them.

Hogarth's father was a man of literary tastes, and a scholar. He had written a supplement to Littleton's Latin Dictionary, but was unable to get it published. "I saw the difficulties," writes the artist, "under which my father laboured; the many inconveniences he endured from his dependence, living chiefly on his pen, and the cruel treatment he met with from booksellers and printers. I had before my eyes the precarious situation of men of classical education; it was therefore conformable to my wishes that I was taken from school and served a long apprenticeship to a silver-plate engraver." This is printed in Allan Cunningham's Life of Hogarth, together with many more extracts from autobiographical memoranda, from which we may learn at first hand a great deal of information bearing on the state of painting at this period, and the circumstances under which it received such a stimulus from Hogarth, before the sun had fully risen (in the person of Reynolds) to illumine the whole period of British art.

"As I had naturally a good eye and fondness for drawing," Hogarth continues, "shows of all sorts gave me uncommon pleasure when young, and mimicry, common to all children, was remarkable in me. An early access to a neighbouring painter drew my attention from play, and I was at every possible opportunity engaged in making drawings.... My exercises at school were more remarkable for the ornaments which adorned them than for the exercise itself. In the former I soon found that blockheads with better memories would soon surpass me, but for the latter I was particularly distinguished.

"The painting of St. Paul's and Greenwich Hospital, which were at that time going on, ran in my head, and I determined that silver-plate engraving should be followed no longer than necessity obliged me to it. Engraving on copper was, at twenty years of age, my utmost ambition. To attain that it was necessary that I should learn to draw objects something like nature, instead of the monsters of heraldry, and the common methods of study were much too tedious for one who loved his pleasure and came so late to it.... This led me to consider whether a shorter road than that usually travelled was not to be found.... I had learned by practice to copy with tolerable correctness in the ordinary way, but it occurred to me that there were many disadvantages attending this method of study, as having faulty originals, etc.; and even when the prints or pictures to be imitated were by the best masters, it was little more than pouring water out of one vessel into another. Many reasons led me to wish that I could find a shorter path—fix forms and characters in my mind—and, instead of copying the lines, try to read the language, and if possible find the grammar of the art, by bringing into one focus the various observations I had made, and then trying by my power on the canvas how far my plan enabled me to combine and apply them to practice....

"I had one material advantage over my competitors, viz., the early habit I acquired of retaining in my mind's eye, without coldly copying on the spot, whatever I intended to imitate.... Instead of burdening the memory with musty rules, or tiring the eye with copying dry or damaged pictures, I have ever found studying from nature the shortest and safest way of obtaining knowledge in my art...."

"I entertained some thoughts," he writes again, "of succeeding in what the puffers in books call the great style of history painting, so that, without having had a stroke of this grand business before, I quitted small portraits and familiar conversations, and with a smile at my own temerity commenced history painter, and on a great staircase at St. Bartholomew's Hospital painted two Scripture stories, The Pool of Bethesda and The Good Samaritan, with figures seven feet high. These I presented to the charity, and thought that they might serve as a specimen to show that, were there an inclination in England for encouraging historical pictures, such a first essay might prove the painting them more easily attainable than is generally imagined. But as Religion, the great promoter of this style in other countries, rejected it in England, and I was unwilling to sink into a portrait-manufacturer—and still ambitious of being singular, I soon dropped all expectations of advantage from that source, and returned to the pursuit of my former dealings with the public at large."

Few seemed disposed to recognise, in any of Hogarth's works, a higher aim than that of raising a laugh. Somerville, the poet, dedicated his Rural Games to Hogarth in these words—"Permit me, Sir, to make choice of you for my patron, being the greatest master in the burlesque way. Your province is the town—leave me a small outride in the country, and I shall be content." Fielding had a different opinion of his merits: "He who would call the ingenious Hogarth a burlesque painter would in my opinion do him very little honour, for sure it is much easier, much less the subject of admiration, to paint a man with a nose, or any other feature of a preposterous size, or to expose him in some absurd or monstrous attitude, than to express the affections of man on canvas. It hath been thought a vast commendation of a painter to say his figures seem to breathe, but surely it is a much greater and nobler applause that they appear to think."

In answer to criticism of his Analysis of Beauty, Hogarth writes: "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 fundamental 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 him 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."

After this it would be unfair to withhold the praise of Benjamin West (who succeeded Reynolds as President of the Royal Academy)—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, and his answer was, 'It is a work of the highest value to everyone studying the art. Hogarth was a strutting consequential little man, and made himself 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.'"

In his memoranda respecting the establishment of an Academy of Art in England, Hogarth writes well and wisely. Voltaire asserts that after the establishment of the French Academy not one work of genius appeared, for all the painters became mannerists and imitators. Hogarth agrees with him, declaring that "the institution will serve to raise and pension a few bustling and busy men, whose whole employment will be to tell a few simple students when a leg is too long, or an arm too short. More will flock to the study of art than genius sends; the hope of profit, or the thirst of distinction, will induce parents to push their offspring into the lecture-room, and many will appear and but few be worthy. The paintings of Italy form a sort of ornamental fringe to their gaudy religion, and Rome is the general storeshop of Europe. The arts owe much to Popery, and Popery owes much of its universality to the arts. The French have attained to a sort of foppish magnificence in art; in Holland, selfishness is the ruling passion, and in England vanity is united with selfishness. Portrait-painting, therefore, has succeeded, and ever will succeed better in England than in any other country, and the demand will continue as new faces come into the market.

"Portrait painting is one of the ministers of vanity, and vanity is a munificent patroness; historical painting seeks to revive the memory of the dead, and the dead are very indifferent paymasters. Paintings are plentiful enough in England to keep us from the study of nature; but students who confine their studies to the works of the dead, need never hope to live themselves; they will learn little more than the names of the painters: true painting can only be learnt in one school, and that is kept by Nature."

Hogarth disliked a formal school, says Cunningham, because he was the pupil of nature, and foresaw that students would flock to it from the feeling of trade rather than the impulse of genius, and that it become a manufactory for conventional forms and hereditary graces. Opulent collectors were filling their galleries with the religious paintings of the Romish Church, and vindicating their purchases by representing these works as the only patterns of all that is noble in art and worthy of imitation. Hogarth perceived that all this was not according to the natural spirit of the nation; he well knew that our island had not yet poured out its own original mind in art, as it had done in poetry; and he felt assured that such a time would come, if native genius were not overlaid systematically by mock patrons and false instructors.

"As a painter," says Walpole, "Hogarth has slender merit." "What is the merit of a painter?" Cunningham concludes. "If it be to represent life—to give us an image of man—to exhibit the workings of his heart—to record the good and evil of his nature—to set in motion before us the very beings with whom earth is peopled—to shake us with mirth—to sadden us with woeful reflection—to please us with natural grouping, vivid action, and vigorous colouring—Hogarth has done all this—and if he that has done so be not a painter, who will show us one?"