Hogarth in parallel
by A. Torelli, E. Notti
What they have in common
Hogarth and Sterne are considered the astute mirrors of their society characterised by a great circulation of ideas. If we consider Sterne's plot and Hogarth's abstractions we must call them great innovators.
His idea at the basis of his engraving was to consider minutely the variety of lines, which served to raise the ideas of bodies in the mind and which were undoubtedly to be considered as drawn on the surfaces only of solid or opaque bodies. He explained:
"let every object under our consideration, be imagined to have its inward contents scoop'd out so nicely, as to have nothing of it left but a thin shell, exactlycorresponding both in its inner and outer surface, to the shape of the object itself: and let us likewise suppose this thin shell to be made up of very fine threads, closely connected together, and equally perceptible, whether the eye is supposed to observe them from without or within; and we shall find the ideas of the two surfaces of this shell will naturally coincide. The very word, "shell" makes us seem to see both surfaces alike...The oftner we think of objects in this shell-like manner, we shall facilitate and strengthen our conception of any particular part of the surface of an object we are viewing, by acquiring thereby a more perfect knowledge of the whole, to which it belongs: because the imagination will naturally enter into the vacant space within this shell, and there at once, as from the center, view the whole from within, and mark the opposite correspondingparts so strongly, as to retain the idea of the whole, and make us masters of the meaning of every view of the object, as we walk around it, and view it from without..."1.
Once we have obtained the shell composed of lines it is possible to have the true and full idea of what is called outlines of a figure. What Hogarth wanted his reader to do was to assist his imagination as much as possible.
Sterne was the radical disrupter of the novel form and the promoter of theories of life, language and narrative that connected him to the most avant-garde thought and practice of western culture
Hogarth and Sterne make humorism and satire the basis of their art, then they both want to involve us and create an active partecipation with them. These are the ideas spread by the St. Martin Lane Academy and many famous artists such as David Garrick, a close friend of Hogarth's.
Sterne and Hogarth are interested in "entertaining the eye with the pleasure of movement and variety.2" 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"3 so he invites people to discard from their minds any ideas they cannot reduce to claityr. Moreover he says that happiness belongs to the feeling, but since man is aware of existing only when he feels, it will be necessary to keep on varying sensations in order to free man from his passivity. Sterne tries to evoke such a sensation through his many digressions while Hogarth creates his paintings in series-he said in his Analysis of Beauty: "the moving eye does focus on a centre-point, but it keeps moving to and fro with great celerity."4 They both convey the idea of motion: Hogarth's "pictur'd morals" are an anticipation of the modern art of the film because they tell a story in a series of pictures.
The combination of visual image and words are the Shandean inheritance from Hogarth's Analysis. The Shandean reading structure (serpentine, not straight lines; avoidance of all rules; digression as progression) is based on the practice of reading Hogarth's ideas as formulated in the aesthetics of the Analysis. Sterne combines words and images. The most important element which underlines the link between them is represented by Hogarth's "Analysis of Beauty" published in 1753. Hogarth's famous discovery of the Line of Beauty was a general topic of discussion, not only among the members of the St. Martin Lane Academy, so Sterne must have been influenced by it. More precisely we can say that he must have read it before writing his Tristram Shandy.
Sterne uses several devices to give the impression of conversation, for instance dots; Hogarth paints his conversation pieces. See A Harlot's Progress (1732 ) - www.haleysteele.com/hogarth/plates/harlot.html and Rake's Progress(1735) www.haleysteele.com/hogarth/plates/rake.html
The theatre is present in Sterne's work in the repeated stage directions, in the vocabulary which constantly recalls the stage, in linguistic devices such as lifting the curtain and so on, in invocations to Sterne's friend, the great actor David Garrick.
Sterne and Hogarth wanted to involve their reader and make his role active. They were fascinated by the problems which came to dominate art, especially the question of deception in a work of art: what kind of credence was to be placed in art itself? The greatness of Sterne is that, with humour and sensivity, he insisted all the time that the novel could not save us! He never used his gifts without calling to the reader's attention the limitations of all such gifts. Eighteenth-century readers tended to be extremely skilled at traslating words into pictures; an a modern reader who wants to appreciate eighteenth century poems as more than dead words on a page must learn to see their images in the mind's eye.5