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


William Hogarth (1697-1764)

The place of William Hogarth is with the great Augustan writers, Defoe, Swift, Pope, Gay and Fielding rather then with the elegant Eighteenth century portrait painters such as Reynolds and his successors. Hogarth saw that his age needed a new kind of art to express the spirit of a new kind of civilization. He was a painter, a draughtsman,an engraver and a drammatic, realistic and comic artist.1 Hogarth's prints reached the discriminating collector and the pot boy at the King's Head. This was no accident. They were crafted to work at two levels: that of what he called the "ordinary reader" and that of the "reader of great penetration" who was expected to have a working knowledge of the classics and the scriptures and to understand that the pursuit of meaning was one of the more rewarding parts of the aesthetic experience. The whole of Hogarth's career was a protest against the culture-snobbery he saw: from the time of Henry VIII to that of William III there was no pictural art in England but it became an upper.class habbit. Therefore foreign artists were invited to England and everything in art which was old and foreign lent itself to of snobbish adoration.

This two-tier approach enabled him to reacher a broader and more diverse audience than any other printmaker has been able to do, but it bequeathed a problem to the generations who were to come. They have been more or less forced to decide whether to pursue the Hogarth who set out to make his art as accessible as possible or the Hogarth who set out to make his art as difficult as possible. Modern readers accepting the "ordinary" label will be rewarded by a grand tour of the town, a great "comic" performance and a bracing encounter with a pushy moralist. Having written the book, Hogarth will be the perfect guide to London in the first half of the 18th century. Although The Four Times of the Day, Southwark Fair, The March to Finchley, Gin Lane and Beer Street illustrate and illuminate the "close, greasy, tavern air" of life in the "Great Wen," that is the lesser part of it. Art has triumphed; Hogarth's pictures constitute the yardstick by which we judge his world. Circularity is King: we know Hogarth got it right because we know exactly what 18th century London was like - it was, to use a great English adjective, Hogarthian! Alas, as Hogarth knew, London was in thrall to a great folly - affectation. No person, no class, no institution was immune; all were possessed by a farcical hankering to be other than they were, all whored after false gods. Therefore Hogarth became widely known as a popular moralist but his pictures were also a vivid portrayal of the lusty, vigorous life of contemporary England and a powerful exposure of the cruelty and the stupidity of a society in which all human and moral values were threatened by the power of money. Socially deplorable, to be sure, but a windfall for a comic artist: "affectation" is almost always "ridiculous." Hogarth had a nigh inexhaustible subject and he tackled it with with gusto; in Hazlett's words, he presented the "ridiculous" "full grown, with wings ...airy, ostentatious and extravagant....seen at the height - the moon at the full." Although, his pictures are packed with incongruity, exaggeration, drollery, caricature, the tricks of the comic trade, they are never frivolous. Far from it, Hogarth was an intense and unwavering moralist, a didactic artist who took it for granted his job was to "improve the mind" and to contribute to "public utility."

Modern readers of "penetration" will also be interested in what Hogarth thought he was up to. They will be aware that the great entertainer was a great troublemaker, a radical determined to sweep away the addled art of his day and replace it with something modern. They will be intrigued by the small etching he used as a subscription ticket for The Harlot's Progress. The tags from Vergil and Horace will alert them to the fact it is addressed to them rather than the hoi polloi, while the rococo style - quite different from that of the Harlot - will immediately suggest it is to be "read" as a contribution to aesthetics. Known as Boys Peeping at Nature, it shows three putti and a satyr gathered around a statue of Diana, the goddess of Nature. The first putto makes a tentative, idealized drawing of the goddess, the second turns away and sketches a formal representation from his imagination, the third forlornly tries to stop the bold satyr from lifting Nature's skirts. Everything follows. Hogarth will toss out ancient history and mythology - they amount to nothing but ridiculous affectation. He will confront reality without obfuscation or idealization; he will depict the corruption of the contemporary world with comic pungency. He will ignore collectors, critics and connoisseurs; he will reach out for a new audience with prints - Gin Lane and Beer Street, the Four Stages of Cruelty, Industry and Idleness - that will be rude and cheap. Not least, he will insist on being taken seriously; he will insist that his "comic" pictures embody the artistic and moral virtues that hitherto had been regarded as the prerogative of "History" paintings in the Grand or Monumental Style.

Unlike the majority of the artists he learned to paint in London instead of Italy, Hogarth created a living popular art expressing the vitality and the energy of the England of his time, with its follies, hypocrisy and cruelty. He painted it with the same satiric force which characterised Swift, Pope and Fielding. He started the English tradition of popular satiric and moralizing art. The starting point for his satire was a print called "Masquerades and Operas" which consisted in a vigorous attack on the bad taste of the aristocracy. Hogarth is a literary artist in the sense that his aims were similar to those of the chief contemporary English writers. When he was young the English literary scene was dominated by the famous group of Queen Anne wits, Swift, Pope, Gay, Addison and Steele. However, he seems to have very little in connection with this group. He certainly knew Pope's work and Gay's Beggar's Opera and he was probably influenced by those writers. Swift probably enjoyed the prints of A Harlot's Progress and A Rake's Progress and recognized in him the spirit of denunciation of human stupidity and depravity.However, Hogarth's most significant literary relationships were with the new art of the English novel as it developed in the fourth and fifth decades of the Eighteenth century. He was personally acquainted with both Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding. Despite Richardson's puritanical spirit, when he conceived the plan for Pamela his mind was full of reminiscences of A Harlot's Progress and A Rake's Progress. The vivid realistic word-painting is found both in Richardson and Fielding and it was something new in prose fiction.2


1 Cfr Aa Vv, The New Pellican Guide to English Literature, edited by Boris Ford. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1997, vol.4 "From Dryden to Johnson", p. 271

2 For more details about Hogath's work Cfr.;