Page images
PDF
EPUB

ash. Thus, as he conceived himself casually (though at a great distance) to have occasioned the death of one, he was the immediate and direct cause of giving a comfortable living to many."

Burning of Wickliffe's body by order of the council of Constance." Hitherto [A. D. 1428] the corpse of John Wickliffe had quietly slept in his grave about forty-one years after his death, till his body was reduced to bones, and his bones almost to dust. For though the earth in the chancel of Lutterworth, in Leicestershire, where he was interred, hath not so quick a digestion with the earth of Aceldama, to consume flesh in twenty-four hours, yet such the appetite thereof, and all other English graves, to leave small reversions of a body after so many years. But now such the spleen of the council of Constance, as they not only cursed his memory as dying an obstinate heretic, but ordered that his bones (with this charitable caution, if it may be discerned from the bodies of other faithful people) be taken out of the ground, and thrown far off from any Christian burial. In obedience hereunto, Richard Fleming, bishop of Lincoln, diocesan of Lutterworth, sent his officers (vultures with a quick sight scent at a dead carcass) to ungrave him. Accordingly, to Lutterworth they come. sumner, commissary, official, chancellor, proctors, doctors, and their servants, (so that the remnant of the body would not hold out a bone among so many hands,) take what was left out of the grave, and burni them to ashes, and cast them into Swift, a neighbouring brook running hard by. Thus this brook has conveyed his ashes into Avon, Avon into Severn, Severn into the narrow seas, then into the main ocean ; and thus the ashes of Wickliffe are the emblem of his doctine, which now is dispersed all the world over."*—Church History.

64

* The concluding period of this most lively narrative I will not call a conceit: it is one of the grandest conceptions I ever met with. One feels the ashes of Wickliffe gliding away out of the reach of the sumners, commissaries, officials, proctors, doctors, and all the puddering rout of executioners of the impotent rage of the baffled council: from Swift into Avon, from Avon into Severn, from Severn into the narrow seas, from the narrow seas into the main ocean, where they become the emblem of his doctrine, "dispersed all the world over." Hamlet's tracing the body of Cesar to the clay that stops a heer-barrel, is a no less curious pursuit of “ruined mortality;" but it is in an inverse ratio to this: it degrades and saddens us, for one part of our nature at least; but this expands the whole of our nature, and gives to the body a sort, of ubiquity-a diffusion, as far as the actions of its partner can have reach or influence.

I have seen this passage smiled at, and set down as a quaint conceit of old Fuller. But what is not a conceit to those who read it in a temper different from that in which the writer composed it? The most pathetic parts of poetry to cold tempers seem and are nonsense, as divinity was to the Greeks foolishness. When Richard II., meditating on his own utter annihilation as to royalty, cries out

ON THE GENIUS AND CHARACTER OF HOGARTH;

[blocks in formation]

REMARKS ON A PASSAGE IN THE WRITINGS OF

THE LATE MR. BARRY.

ONE of the earliest and noblest enjoyments I had when a boy, was in the contemplation of those capital prints by Hogarth, the Harlot's and Rake's Progresses, which, along with some others, hung upon the walls of a great hall in an oldfashioned house in -shire, and seemed the solitary tenants (with myself) of that antiquated and life-deserted apartment.

Recollection of the manner in which those prints used to affect me, has often made me wonder, when I have heard Hogarth described as a mere comic painter, as one of those whose chief ambition was to raise a laugh. To deny that there are throughout the prints which I have mentioned circum: tances introduced of a laughable tendency, would be to run counter to the common notions of mankind; but to suppose that in their ruling character they appeal chiefly to the risible faculty, and not first and foremost to the very heart of its best and most serious feelings, would be to mistake no less grossly their aim and purpose. A set of severer satires (for they are not so much comedies, which they have been likened to, as they are strong and masculine satires) less mingled with anything of mere fun were never written upon paper or graven upon copper. They resemble Juvenal, or the satiric touches in Timon of Athens.

I was pleased with the reply of a gentleman, who, being asked which book he esteemed most in his library, answered -“Shakspeare:" being asked which he esteemed next best, replied—“Hogarth.” His graphic representations are indeed books : they have the teeming, fruitful, suggestive meaning of words. Other pictures we look at—his prints we read.

In pursuance of this parallel, I have sometimes entertained myself with comparing the Timon of Athens of Shakspeare

“Oh that I were a mockery king of snow,

To melt before the sun of Bolingbroke,” If we have been going on pace for pace with the passion before, this sudden conversion of a strong-felt metaphor into something to be actually realized in nature, like that of Jeremiah, “Oh! that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears,” is strictly and strikingly natural; but come unprepared upon it, and it is a conceit: and so is a “head” turned into “wa

ters.”

[ocr errors]

(which I have just mentioned) and Hogarth's Rake's Progress together. The story, the moral in both is nearly the same. The wild course of riot and extravagance, ending in the one with driving the prodigal from the society of men into the solitude of the deserts, and in the other with conducting the rake through his several stages of dissipation into the still more complete desolations of the mad-house, in the play and in the picture are described with alınost equal force and nature. The levee of the rake, which forms the subject of the second plate in the series, is almost a transcript of Timon's levee in the opening scene of that play. We find a dedicating poet, and other similar characters, in both.

The concluding scene in the Rake's Progress is perhaps superior to the last scenes of Timon. If we seek for something of kindred excellence in poetry, it must be in the scenes of Lear's beginning madness, where the king, and the fool, and the Tom-oʻ-Bedlam conspire to produce such a medley of mirth checked by misery, and misery rebuked by mirth; where the society of those “ strange bedfellows" which misfortunes have brought Lear acquainted with, so finely sets forth the destitute state of the monarch, while the lunatic bans of the one, and the disjointed sayings and wild but pregnant illusions of the other, so wonderfully sympathize with that confusion, which they seem to assist in the production of, in the senses of that "child-changed father.”

In the scene in Bedlam, which terminates the Rake's Progress, we find the same assortment of the ludicrous with the terrible. Here is desperate madness, the overturning of originally strong thinking faculties, at which we shudder, as we contemplate the duration and pressure of affliction which it must have asked to destroy such a building; and here is the gradual hurtless lapse into idiocy, of faculties, which, at their best of times, never having been strong, we look upon the consummation of their decay with no more of pity than is consistent with a smile. The mad tailor, the poor driveller that has gone out of his wits (and truly he appears to have had no great journey to go to get past their confines) for the love of Charming Betty Careless-these half-laughable, scarce. pitiable objects take off from the horror which the principal figure would of itself raise, at the same time that they assist the feeling of the scene by contributing to the general notion of its subject

“ Madness, thou chaos of the brain,
What art, that pleasure giv'st, and pain ?
Tyranny of Fancy's reign !
Mechanic Fancy, that can build

Vast labyrinths and mazes wild,

With rule disjointed, shapeless measure
Fiild with horror, fill'd with pleasure !
Shapes of horror, that would even
Casi doubts of mercy upon heaven.
Shapes of pleasure, that but seen,
Would split the shaking sides of Spleen."*

Is it carrying the spirit of comparison to excess to remark, that in the poor, kneeling, weeping female who accompanies her seducer in his sad decay, there is something analogous to Kent, or Caius, as he delights rather to be called, in Lear --the noblest pattern of virtue which even Shakspeare has conceived—who follows his royal master in banishment, that had pronounced his banishment, and forgetful at once of his wrongs and dignities, taking on himself the disguise of a menial, retains his fidelity to the figure, his loyalty to the carcass, the shadow, the shell, and empty husk of Lear?

In the perusal of a book, or of a picture, much of the impression which we receive depends upon the habit of mind which we bring with us to such perusal. The same circumstance may make one person laugh, which shall render another very serious ; or in the same person the first impression may be corrected by after-thought. The misemployed incongruous characters at the Harlot's Funeral, on a superficial inspection, provoke to laughter; but when we have sacrificed the first emotion to levity, a very different frame of mind succeeds, or the painter has lost half his purpose. I never look at that wonderful assemblage of depraved beings, who, without a grain of reverence or pity in their perverted minds, are performing the sacred exteriors of duty to the relics of their departed partner in folly, but I am as much moved to sympathy from the very want of it in them, as I should be by the finest representation of a virtuous deathbed, surrounded by real mourners, pious children, weeping friends -perhaps more by the very contrast. What reflections does it not awake, of the dreadful heartless state in which the creature (a female too) must have lived, who in death wants the accompaniment of one genuine tear. That wretch who is removing the lid of the coffin to gaze upon the corpse with a face which indicates a perfect negation of all goodness or womanhood—the hypocrite parson and his demure partnerall the fiendish group-to a thoughtful mind present a moral emblem more affecting than if the poor friendless carcass had been depicted as thrown out to the woods, where wolves had assisted at its obsequies, itself furnishing forth its own funeral banquet.

• Lines inscribed under the plate.

It is easy to laugh at such incongruities as are met together in this picture--incongruous objects being of the very essence of laughter-but surely the laugh is far different in its kind from that thou htless species to which we are moved by mere farce and grotesque. We laugh when Ferdinand Count Fathom, at the first sight of the white cliffs of Britain, feels his heart yearn with filial fondness towards the land of his progenitors, which he is coming to fleece and plunder—we smile at the exquisite irony of the passage—but if we are not led on by such passages to some more salutary feeling than laughter, we are very negligent perusers of them in book or picture.

It is the fashion with those who cry up the great historical school in this country, at the head of which Sir Joshua Reynolds is placed, lo exclude Hogarth from that school, as an artist of an inferior and vulgar class. Those persons seem to me to confound the painting of subjects in common or vulgar life with the being a vulgar artist. The quantity of thought which Hogarth crowds into every picture would alone unvulgarize every subject which he might choose. Let us take the lowest of his subjects, the print called Gin Lane. Here is plenty of poverty and low stuff to disgust upon a superficial view; and, accordingly, a cold spectator feels himself immediately disgusted and repelled. I have seen many turn away from it, not being able to bear it. The same persons would perhaps have looked with great complacency upon Poussin's celebrated picture of the Plague at Athens.* Disease, and

* Death, and bewildering Terror, in Athenian garments are endurable, and come, as the delicate critics express it, within the “limits of pleasurable sensation.” But the scenes of their own St. Giles's delineated by their own countryman are too shocking to think of. Yet if we could abstract our minds from the fascinating colours of the picture, and forget the coarse execution (in some respects) of the print, intended as it was to be a cheap plate, accessible to the poorer sort of people, for whose instruction it was done, I think we could have no hesitation in conferring the palm of superior genius upon Hogarth, comparing this work of his with Poussin's picture. There is more of imagination in it—that power which draws all things to one--which makes things animate and inanimate, beings with their attributes, subjects and their accessories, take one colour, and serve to one effect. Everything in the print, to use a vulgar expression, tells. Every nart is full of “strange images of death.” It is perfectly

* At the late Mr. Hope's, in Cavendish Square

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »