Sterne and Hogarth in parallel
by A. Torelli, E. Notti

Structure of the hypertext



John Loche
Samuel Johnson
A quotation
Coffee Houses






Gin Lane and Beer Street
Masquerades and Operas






David Garrick
Analysis of Beauty


Sterne-Hogarth: Cultural Background

The 17th century is a starting point for a new world whose topical subjects are still relevant today. Our idea of progress and the constant development of the human condition belongs to it, as well as the concept of human ability to judge without being driven by prejudices. Hogarth writes in his Analysis of Beauty that he would like to explore a kind of doctrine that may teach us to see with our eyes. The idea of tolerance and religious freedom, together with the scientific revolution and the developments in politics characterise an age which paves the way for modern history. Enlightenment thinkers, the so-called "philosophers", are the main characters of the cultural scene, they are interested in several fields such as philosophy, politics, science, economy, aesthetics and art. Aesthetics ceases to follow strict rules as it had for the preceeding ages from Aristotle to the Renaissance and becomes descriptive: its aim is to find out, empirically, the basis of man's taste. The most important philosopher of the time is John Locke - the father of empiricism- whose analysis of the ideas in an individual mind influences many artists. Though aesthetics dwelt on the beautiful, it was an empiricist philosophy based on the senses. According to Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding ideas are acquired and put together but they are clear only when they are based on direct experience; he invites people to discard ideas they cannot reduce to clarity. Moreover he says that happiness belongs to the feeling of existence, but since man is aware of existence only when he feels, it will be necessary to keep on varying sensations in order to free man from his passivity.1

The 17th and 18th centuries are also ages of cosmopolitism: artists, refined amateurs and collectors travel all around Europe and the "grand tour" is still a habit. The cultural background is characterised by a great open-mindedness and rapid circulation of ideas. Thanks to the gradual transformations of politics, society and ideology, artists free themselves from their role of persuaders and their relationship with their clients changes. The reign of queen Anne can be described as the age of patronage: Sir Richard Steele, Joseph Addison and Jonathan Swift expected to deserve such rewards both for their literary eminence and for their service to Party. But after 1715 (1714 accession of George 1), as patronage declines, authors find that they must turn to the publishers, who can pay them well because of the growing reading public 2. Samuel Johnson often declared that the booksellers of the midcentury had become the patrons of literature. Moreover, as writing gradually became a profession, he denounced patronage as a form of servitude limiting human freedom.

The growth of the reading public, as a result of the increase in literacy and the rise of a wealthy class with money to buy books, makes publishing a profitable business. Although most promising career in a pecuniary sense was still to be found on the stage and novelists were not yet the rivals of dramatists, many authors made enough through a successful play to float them through a year or two. Besides losing its political power in this period, the court also lost its primacy as a cultural centre. It was replaced by independent literary centres which developed around coffee houses. These became meeting-places3 for political, cultural and philosophical debates, from which journalism developed. During the first half of the Eighteenth century the coffeehouses of London became the places where men could smoke, drink , read newspapers, write and receive letters, exchange news, gossip, opinions and observe the oddities that the English have always been happy to cultivate. Eventually clubs not unlike Addison's imaginary Spectator Club came to preside over literary life. The Royal Society, founded in 1662 to foster the development of art and science became another important cultural centre.4


1 Cfr. Carlo Bertelli, Giuliano Briganti, Antonio Giuliano, Storia dell'Arte Italiana, Milano: Electa Bruno Monadori. 1991, vol. III, pp. 392-397;

- Fabio Cioffi, Giorgio Lippi, Amedeo Vigorelli, Emilio Zanette, Il testo filosofico, Milano: Bruno Mondadori. 1997, vol II, pp. 269-290, 851-72, p. 630-647.

2 Aa Vv, Norton Anthology of English Literature, New York; London: W. W. Norton. 1993, vol. I, p. 182.

3 Ibidem.

4 B. De Luca , U. Grillo, P. Pace, S. Ranzoli, Views of Literature Text, Context and Film, Torino: Loescher editore. 1993, vol II, p. 183.