Posts Tagged ‘jenny uglow’

Jenny Uglow in her study, recent photo

William Hogarth (1697-1764) Shrimp Girl

Dear friends and readers,

About two weeks ago now I finished reading Jenny Uglow’s marvelous biography, Hogarth: A life and a world. The pleasures of this book come from Uglow’s genuine gift for travel writing, and analysis of art, her thorough knowledge of Hogarth’s era, skillful individual character sketches and a portrait of Hogarth himself as a deeply humane man of genius.

Hogarth by Louis Francis Roubiliac (1695-1762)

Her book’s core, its method is to read sympathetically and partly against the grain from a psychological and social standpoint Hogarth’s popular engravings which at the time (and largely today too) would be read by the common observer as didactic and harsh (hypocritically a satirist like Pope would say). She persistently reads Hogarth’s prints and paintings in close loving detail, and shows that Hogarth elicits empathy for the central figure.

As with my review of David Nokes’s Samuel Johnson and before that William McCarthy’s Anna Barbauld, I read this great book over a number of weeks, and wrote about the chapters I had read from week to week, and seek here to share some of Uglow’s insights, recreation of the 18th century world and humane perspective. I hope paradoxically to cheer and uplift others as Uglow did me. I say paradoxically for this is a book which looks steadily at the harsh realities of life then and connects these to now.


Bartholomew Close, photo taken from across the street, 1990s

She begins with imagining herself in the Bartholomew Close where Hogarth grew up at the same time as she describes the present area today — one well known to me. Jim and I have rented a flat on Cloth Fair in a building that goes back to the early 18th century at least 10 times. I have walked the streets and crannies she describes. I know the hospital, the square. Indeed I know where the emergency door is because for a few years Jim was in danger of diverticulitis attacks and I made it my business to have the phone number of the people in there now. Two (much remodelled) buildings stand from before the fire on Cloth Fair still (or so it’s said, well the door and overhang look old enough in shape and type).

Inside Cloth Fair apartment, said to be in a later 17th century building

I know that meat market in the vast steel building and have seen it loaded with meat and noise and hectic people 5 days a week and then silence on Saturday and Sunday. I’ve walked to Dr Johnson’s house (Gough Square) from there, drunk in those pubs, walked over to the Strand, up the block to see St. Paul’s. Holborn is one of the Tube stations I’ve used repeatedly.

In some non-physical way England is my roots too. (When I first arrived by boat, a 12 day trip on a small boat laden with students) and saw the cliffs of Dover I knew I wasn’t going home as this was not my literal home. But it was home in another way, my dream place since reading Mary Poppins in the Park as a child in the South east Bronx at age 8. (It’s by an Australian women by-the-bye and as I recall written in the 40s, a dark war-ridden time.)

Her perspective of Hogarth’s father as the disappointed man outside who never had a chance to get where his gifts could be used is moving. The perspective seems accurate: “the great imaginary heroes of this age are not epic figures. They are outsiders, castaways, servants, rogues or wandered, orphans, and illegitimate children.

She wants to read the pictures, fill in the gaps, name what we see. And I like that she’s going to show Hogarth’s strong French connections to.

She makes a strong case for seeing Richard Hogarth as a worldly failure. The second part of chapter 1 continues to depict the world of Smithfield, moving to Barthlomew Fair as depicted in Elkanah Settle’s “droll,” The Seige of Troy, Ned Ward’s A London Spy, Hogarth’s later prints. Anne Hogarth endured the death of all but three of her children when young, and we have people living in kinship groups (in their imaginaries) among the streets of the ara. Meanwhile Richard floundered and he ended in debtor’s prison. Uglow gives us a harsh but real depiction of what a life in such a place was: horrible, yes you had to pay to have the irons off, pay for everything, people starved, were destitute, ruined by this. Hogarth’s uncle, the father’s brother did not rescue him; there is evidence Richard paid a fee for lodging; within the rules, he taught and began work on a dictionary (which has disappeared). (This reminds me of Anthony Trollope’s father who when his business was ruined, and his returned to him from the US, began a dictionary of ecclesiastical offices; he got only up to an early letter, but it was published because the wife had contacts; the man had gone half-mad with grief and illness and humiliation and despair.)

By 1713 the father was free, but Hogarth writes these years and watching the father affected him for the rest of his life. It seems to me that this is what counts. Whether abstractly considered Richard Hogarth was relatively not that much of a failure (to us and even then to some others) doesn’t matter. What matters is how he perceived it, and how his son did. (Ditto by the way for Trollope: his early years made him the novelist he became.) I like that Richard Hogarth was “obsessional” as this helped free his brother-in-law Williams Gibbons from Ludgate. I imagine William identifying with this father and loving him, at the same time (from the passage quoted on p. 28) determined not to be drawn into non-moneymaking pursuits, determined to make others pay for his services (gifts). Am I right that later William Hogarth fought hard for copyright protection from the booksellers and printers? Johnson: “slow rises worth, by poverty depressed.” Uglow says this was Richard Hogarth’s story: “hard work, fading hopes, greedy booksellers, and family hardship wore him down.” He died 1718.

In Chapters 3 and 4, there’s a great deal about the art world Hogarth belonged to. Uglow discusses the nitty-gritty (ugly, disgusting, soiled, hard, arduous, time consuming) procedures that made up the engraving business. She made me understand what the processes are literally, and most of the time when I read about them, I don’t or can’t. (See p. 61 especially.) I could see how someone might chose to do this kind of art work rather than that because one mistake and you lose all you’ve done. She brought home the individual’s experience. I’ve never seen this in print this way. She set Hogarth among his family and its bad hardships and this time showed how much self-esteem and high regard for himself Hogarth had. I dislike using the word “aspiration” as it’s been so exploited for obfuscation lately; I’ll put it he aspires despite the manifest economic and political and social structures of his day which marginalized or contained and controlled him and his fellows

She is superb at setting his art in context, not only among his fellows – the social life, the experience, the patronage or not and how this affected individuals — but the themes and content of Hogarth’s art and how it relates to that of others: I felt chuffed she spoke of Hayman so highly (pp. 68-69) as I’ve often liked his pictures and remember them, and when she described Hogarth’s portrayal of acting as “the frozen instant of the modern photograph and the essentialism of caricature: impression and judgement in one” I thought to myself this is why Fielding in Tom Jones to characterize his character’s inward life and doings refers us to this or that specific picture by Hogarth. Fielding uses the essentialism of caricature as core technique for building a character’s presence in his book.

Brian Blessed as Squire Western, bellowing for “his Sophie (from the 1997 BBC Tom Jones: see my “Affectionately Dedicated to Mr Fielding”)

People do fear caricature as she says; perhaps today we no longer believe in witchcraft (which Fielding says Partridge did, that Jacobite you see), but it hurts us, and makes us see ourselves in lights it’s hard to drive from your mind and thus it weakens and debilitates you if you take it seriously. And there is a wild nightmare quality to “Royalty, Episcopacy and Law” — some readers are interested in Hogarth for the connection of his art to the most famous of Dickens’s illustrators: their comic grotesque art has this same fantastical nightmare quality if you really look at what you are seeing and take it in.

To keep up the parallel with Fielding, Fielding contains the nightmare by his strong adherence to form, from shapely chapters with reasoned headings to irony and the narrator’s stance of apparent benevolence; well so too the allegorizing of Hogarth and his moralizing; it makes us take in what we see with calm and as something everyday and therefore okay.

John Sessions as Fielding benignly keeping count of his characters, directing their traffic in the film (97 BBC TJ)

Chapters 5 through 7 center on a level of art or kind I usually don’t read and don’t know much about: burlesque satires, lampoons, the kind of popular prints that sell because they have what the public goes after as scurrilous (be it because there are scatalogical images in them or because they attack someone). Darnton’s thesis that this latter is radical stuff is born out by Uglow’s analysis of Hogarth’s prints as exposing the horrific cruelties of the time in the way prisoners were treated — almost hard to read (see pp. 140-47 especially), so bestial was the behavior of the people in charge of these prisons that what I’ve read say of Micheal Vick’s treatment of dogs (tortured them viciously) that it’s easy to see why Swift called The Beggar’s Opera a Newgate Pastoral without getting sophisticated about the term at all. Gay softened the terrible things done to people.

She tells the story of Robert Castell, scholarly debtor and architect (p. 144) whose book was The villa of the ancients illustrated. No wonder Johnson waxed savage in his Ramblers against these creditors as inhumane monsters. Lockit is no exaggeration in The Beggar’s Opera

One of the sets of verbal texts Uglow deals with how the aftermath of the revolution brought nasty and utterly condemnatory texts about the commonwealth into popularity. Among these was Hudibras, a doggerel poem where the mad crude Don Quixote figure, Hudibras is a presbyterian and Ralph, his Sancho Panza sidekick, is a mad deluded Independent. This complete farce was apparently popular — William St. Clair says it’s not coincidence what is sold cheap and circulates easily so in Scott (a hard Tory) did so in the 1820s and this poem in the later 17th century. It gave rise to many imitations, and as Uglow says, the type of art it represents influenced Fielding: “the cast of mind behind the broad sexiness and pointed sketches of Fielding’s novel’ (p. 128). In fact the picture in these 3 chapters show how far from the mark we are today when we watch emotional film adaptations of Tom Jones from what the contemporary might have imagined as he or she read. (It puts me in mind of how startled I was when I first saw part 1 of the recent epic movie of Lord of the Rings; when I read it in the 1960s I did put imagine boy’s adventure story or Dantesque pictures but medieval romance pictures like those found in older Arthurian books, viz, When Knighthood was in Flower and myself think these new pictures misrepresent and distort the book’s real nexus sweepingly.)

Not altogether for soon after Tom Jones came out there were sentimental pictures of the type which appeared soon after with Pamela so Fielding could be read another way and probably was.

The famous painting of The Beggar’s Opera, with all the real individuals precisely pictured

Uglow includes a lot on The Beggar’s Opera, also of enormous importance for the era. For Hogath too: he is turned Gay into his own pictures and circulated these (p 136). Now I’ve taught this one again and again, and shown Jonathan Miller’s movie and read Gay so here I am familiar, but I learned a lot. Uglow’s close reading of Hogarth’s paintings made me see things in the pictures I had not noticed. I often shy away from looking at pictures which present women and men in the way much of the pictures on these three chapters do: when not presented nastily sexily or misogynistically, they are presented as so abject. Of course that’s the point. I thought (Uglow missed this) the Falstaff picture (p. 131) ought to be connected with Farquhar’s Recruiting Officer (which is performed in the UK now and again)

Not that I disagree with what is being said about human nature; I agree with it. Uglow connects the Beggar’s Opera to the satires of the time showing how the world was governed “by competition,greed, factions,” all “delusion” and so on. We see the particulars of the satire and how it led to Polly too. Further I think to myself how in our time it would be if such kinds of satires were written and presented. Probably there would be a huge uproar, intense protest, and some of the writers end up in prison for endangering national security. To compare out time to this early 18th century one we see how tame our writers and artists really are. The last thing I remember of this type was Macbird — how many years ago was that? Imagine some satire presenting the torture US people indulge in at Guantanemo?

There is the story of The Craftsman and Pulteny and Bolingbroke: later Fielding again wrote such a journal (p. 116)

And of course it’s about rising in a career, and how Hogarth is working at that, not too successfully as he is himself not a sycophant quite enough. We see the freuds, the nepotism; Uglow has found out a level of reality not that often in books — see p. 124 on how the artists had to sue for their fees. Hogarth manages to make money and then (no surprise really) the big break comes when he marries the daughter of one of the prominent painters of the time: Thornhill. Richardson married his master’s daughters twice (first and second wife). I’ve mentioned how few women are presented as actors here, but here is one you see. We see them in the pictures but not as they would present themselves at all. Uglow does notice them decently now and again: Maria Skerrit as the plain mistress of Walpole “installed” in a nearby house, and the decency of Henrietta Howard so often presented nastily and unfairly by the male writers of the era (p. 126) is noticed as “charming, funny and sensible.” And there are Hogarth’s sisters hard at work in their shop (p. 153).

It’s remarkable how much Uglow gets out of her readings of pictures.

Chapters 8 and 9 unearth from Hogarth’s art his mindset, to read the pictures inwardly — and that’s not easy given the nature of the subjects, the necessary enigmatic stance one must take in critiquing one’s very customers. Uglow showed how Hogarth’s painting series emerged from a blending of his earlier satiric impulses, what he learned by painting conversation pieces, and his experience of life.

One can see where Uglow gets her information too; her quest is part of the story. Hogarth shows up in Vertue when he marries the boss’s daughter — and thus enables Uglow to follow him, sleuth-like. He wanted to go into painting because it would “give him greater freedom” especially from relying on printsellers (p. 155). We are told who commissions him and then how they are related to one another (p. 156). Hogarth would not let his servants nag vistors for tips; he kept the practice of having a room apart from his painting for customers to come too once he could afford it, but before that he let customers into his studio. His canvasses grew and so did his reputation (p. 157). Showing how sharp Walpole was (and perhaps not so sharp or willing to speak out the other customers), Robert Walpole looks at some of the paintings and sees how they don’t flatter and he doesn’t like it: “nor his talent adapted to look on vanity without a sneer” (p. 174). But other people didn’t mind it so much or didn’t see quite what was in front of them.

Lord Hervey and his Friends (1738)

Uglow’s readings of these conversation pieces bring home to us real customs of the day, real behaviors. She is also alive to the qualities of the paint and beauties as well as the stinging social satire and insight. She sees the two sets of “before” and “after” sex in terms sympathetic to the woman who has allowed herself to have sexual intercourse with this man and all he wants to do is escape any committment. (Times have not changed: Bridget Jones calls such men emotional fuckwits.)

Fielding now duly comes on stage as Hogarth’s friend and companion and congenial artist. The painting satires do seem to me close to Fielding’s art — I just read the conversation between the Upton landlady and her maid about Mrs Walter’s and Tom Jones; Fielding tells us she is different from his earlier landlady: she is, more alive to higher status and thus more absurd 🙂 I didn’t realize Hogarth was under 5 feet. That’s a hardship for a men especially in this brutal period; Fielding tall. We see the different milieus they come from.

But we do not see their home life nor the women they lived with or any of that.

On Fielding’s art — especially Thwackum and Square — Uglow reminds us to take deism and atheism seriously. We live in such conservative times that modern scholars don’t talk of the strong increase in secularism much. In fact probably Fielding has periods of strong doubt (as did Johnson) and the continual baiting through these two types in Tom Jones comes from the importance of this area of ethics and religion in the day (pp. 184-86). Uglow thinks Hogarth shared Fielding’s strong sceptical bent. She calls Fielding’s willingness to see goodness in human nature as dominant generous. Hmmm. He wants to see this or it gets too hard to live — Jane Bennet (Austen heroine) presents this as her argument for what was called “candour” in the era.

I just loved art history in college; I took several courses in Queens (they were 2 credits each so you could take more) and two included the 18th century; that started me off and I have a couple of art books in my house just filled with these conservation pieces — most of them not satiric but nostalgic, picturesque in the Gainsborough-rococo way. It’s against these conversation pieces and rococo art that one should also see Hogarth’s satire.

Death of the Earl, a good instance of Hogarth combining the psychological, satiric, moral, and compassionate

Chapter 10 places Hogarth in a world of lower middle people and a print culture. He belongs to the world pictured in Fielding’s plays.

It opens with an apt quotation of Henry Fielding’s Modern Glossary: Nobody: All the People in Great Britain, except about 1200 Worth: Power. Rank. Wealth.
Wisom: The Art of Acquiring All three.
World: Your own acquaintance.

Uglow then relives a record of a long excursion Hogarth took with several friends, a "grand tour" of Kent: he, with five interesting men, John Thornhill, his brother-in-law, Sergeant Painter in the court; William Tothall, businessman with global trade; Samuel Scott, a land- and seascape painter (whose work we have in our albums), and lawyer, Ebeneezer Eliot: it’s a full account because they left a record of it.

Here she does say how frustrating it is that no accounts are left of the women in Hogarth’s life; she thinks that’s because the women seen in public were not respectable. How boring life must have been for the average middle class and lower woman who wanted to be respectable, how restrictive. Wealthy women could get round this by going to theater and high culture places, salons, &c

It’s also on the story of Sarah Malcolm. Uglow tells us Sarah Malcolm was hung for murdering an 80 year woman she was companion to, and the 17 year old maid who lived with them. Well look at her (not included in Uglow’s book):

Take a look at her. No one bothered to take down testimony of why she did it. (They didn’t have Betty Rizzo on Companions Without Vows.) Uglow doesn’t have much time to speculate apparently either.

Hogarth made a engraving of her that was popular, but not reprinted in her book. It appears in a recent TLS issue; it’s the “poster girl” image for a new online archive which includes 18th century sources like trial records, petitions, parish accounts, and workhouse registers. It does give access to the real private lives of “small” vulernable people now and again — insofar as the questions asked and answers put down allows.

Malcom here is described as “the Irish laundress” who had taken part in a robbery. She said she was innocent of any violent crime, explaining that the bloodstains on her clothes were menstrual blood. This defense made her notorious.

Uglow writes that the print shows a powerful intense woman on guard, crow-like her eyes. I see a woman on her guard, soft flesh about her face — with powerful arms. She probably did a lot of hard work. She knows talking truth is hopeless and her expression is flat.

This chapter on Hogarth being refused access to a picture of the Royal Family as a group. The negotiations were done, and Hogarth was having trouble getting real access to the people and their world, when he was suddenly shut out. Kent had beat him, probably because his mode of satire and realism of depiction (with critical undercutting of what we see) roused suspicions and dislike somewhere. So Hogarth stays with "nobodies" rather than "somebodies."

In the next chapter we see Hogarth not making it with the big patrons turn to the public at large and his art reflect what one must do to sell there.

Chapter 12 empathizes with the male reprobate: Uglow reads the prints in close detail, eliciting the sympathy for the central figure many viewers overlook.

Then there's "liberty, property, clubs and cabals. We are in the male world of clubs at the level and of the professional type open to Hogarth. We have Hogarth working hard for copyright — then (as not so much now) a way to create property rights and protect them for the relatively powerless; he works at the Academy and plays at the Beafsteaks club where the outlook is subversive, conspiratorial — maybe often this kind of thing is. But Hogarth was for king and country (as was Fielding) and he disjoined himself; he just didn’t like the experience of subordination (as Johnson would call it)

It’s remarkable what a roll call of famous artists are here, and these are the
people Hogarth walked and eat and lived among. The pictures remind us how he remained undeluded by titles and his walking among the somebodies — for which he was not liked.

Hogarth’s A Taste of High Life

Heads of six of Hogarth’s servants, whom he accords full dignity and respect

Chapter 14 is on Hogarth’s truthful depiction of the ravages of physical sickness in this era, one where there is no modern science at all for real. It’s called "Allegories of Healing" but I know editors are ever on at the writer to be more upbeat.

As the chapter opens we are told that Hogarth’s house was devastated by fire and his mother died — probably of having had too much. And he turned to a tradition of depicting distress on behalf of charity. Distress at fellow suffering was seen as demonstration of our humanity, and we see disease become secularized. No longer sent by God. Hospitals couldn't relieve the sufferers of cancer or offer solace, and many patients just turned away.

But beyond forming the first places where large enough people having the same disease could come together and allow doctors to study a disease for the first time, they fostered the profession, and provided occasions for commemorative art works.

Uglow works to make a baroque allegory Pool of Bethesda meaningful — no mean feat in our non-allegorical non-rank based numinous classical gods era. Again we see this resolute moving away from Christian eschatology.

Beyond the satires on lectures and people attending these places, Hogarth’s painting moves into a sublime Satan, Sin and Death which anticipates the art of say Fuseli, Martin and Blake — or so Uglow says. Here I don’t see it quite – except for that figure of death as a skeleton. That is outside the pantheon of neoclassicism.

Nowadays of course death is a young male technician (strong and able) who stands by you in your intensive care unit room and dares you to try anything,

Uglow uses the aesthetics of Analysis of Beauty in a newly revealing way: it justifies these tortured depictions of muscles, bones, fibres, the very marrow of intense life from within. We have the artists as knowing doctors here.

Hogarth’s magnificent portrait of James Quinn, the comic actor; but for this we would not appreciate the depths of feeling and thought in this famous actor (aptly if less insightfully described in Smollett’s Humphry Clinker too)


Hogarth, Night (from Four Times of Day)

City Spaces: the first half of this chapter is taken up with Uglow’s reading of a set of prints in which he gives us at once a visual moral map of London and a depiction of activities, types of people, and paraphernalia appropriate to occasions, times of day, and times of year, a “topography,” as Uglow says, with “an allegorical value as clear as Bunyan’s hills and valleys and sloughs … it is also vividly accurate; in many cases still recognizable today” (p. 299). Hogarth now had his Engravers’ Act so to engrave such pictures makes money; she also says the painting versions of these are a lot more lyrical and beautiful, but alas has reprinted none. Had she reproduced any I’d scan one at least in for us.

She begins with another description of city places in London then and now which I recognize, not having lived there precisely, but Cloth Fair is not far and Jim and I when in London would wander about a lot. She’s a delightful travel writer — for this is travel writing too. She is clever in reminding the reader of Trafalgar Square today and then saying imagine the area without … she names big buildings or a configuration of streets and one can yes just about see what she sees was once there. Imaginative geologizing.

The satires again have broad appeal. Again she tries to read them more empathetically than I’ve ever seen done, though she acknowledged the harsh didactic point of view is Hogarth’s too. She covers six prints. “The Enraged Musicians” gives her a chance to give us a feel of the noise and sounds of London streets. Who was there, the “professional poor” and she quotes well. She just luxuriates in the set of “Times of Day:” Morning, Noon, Evening, Night.” Each is reprinted and she reads every detail, alerting our eyes with hers. Bridget Allworthy, the woman at the center of “Morning” is a hypocritical prude who while disdaining charity (but Bridget does not anywhere I can remember disdain charity) and expressing dismay, is herself secretly on the hunt for a lover.

Uglow stops to comment on Bridget that “she is full of desire, but will not admit it openly and her ‘prudence’ and desperate care for appearances almost ruins the life of her unacknowledged son, as well as her own” (p. 305). True, and Bilfil is born before the end of 9 months too. Bad woman you see.

Tessa Peake Jones as Bridget Allworthy in the 97 BBC TJ (a proto-feminist film in its sympathetic depiction of Bridget, Honor and all the women but Lady Bellaston — still outside the pale)

It’s here I part company from Uglow. I would read the story against the grain and like the improvement of Bridget’s character in the 1997 film — as I wrote yesterday, partly provided by Anne Pivcevic. Two of the prints show men aggressively intruding on women’s bosoms (so to speak) with their hands. The women are pictured as enjoying it, falling into reveries. The reality might really have been they’d have been humiliated to be so handled in public. I remember one such passage in the autobiography of Christine de Pizan about a court lady to whom a man behaves that way triumphing over her; Pizan says that’s what she gets for preening with his sleeve pinned to her dress’s fancy sleeves. Discomfort and jeering.

I do like the snow in “Morning” and the darkness and danger of “NIght” which Uglow tells us is about May 29th, anniversary of the restoration of Charles II, “Patron of brothels” and we see quite a number of grotesque versions of prositutes being taken away in an arresting cart

Hogarth, Morning (Four Times of Day): Fielding says he had the central female figure in mind when he created Bridget Allworthy

The satirical prints of “City spaces” slides into an account (Chapters 15-16) of the creation fo the foundling hospital, where Uglow goes over the realities of infanticide in this era. Madelyn Gutwirth’s Twilight of the Goddesses goes over the same material: people on a subsistence level who have no access to effective contraception and can’t do abortion safely, will do away with neonates (to give new born babies their technical term — a euphemism I know).

Hogarth’s Captain Thomas Coram (1740)

Hogarth’s famous painting of the benefactor Captain Thomas Coram is beautifully expatiated upon in this context. Uglow also quotes as her epigraph the cruel utterance of Deborah when she finds the baby Tom in Mr Allworthy’s bed: people may remember she offers to put it out in the streets by the warden’s door where “it is two to one but it lives … but if it should not we have discharged our duty in taking proper care of it …” This sentence is repeated verbatim in the 1997 movie — you’ll hear it, and also see Allworthy’s immediate rejection of such advice (Benjamin Whitlow, he who was Mr Bennet in the 1995 P&P – he gets the best older male parts). Hogarth also designed the seal for the place and was all for it, worked for it.

Little baby Tom rescued by the kind Allworthy, note a male benefactor (97 BBC TJ)

Between the portraits of the strolling actresses and an awareness of the women desperate driven to take their child to these hospital (where however the mortality rate was not low nor did the child have access to real opportunity or equality, just a better chance to survive), the different people who agreed to this hospital and helped it along, Uglow does also bring alive another set of existences and types of people, mostly women as seen in these pictures.

The first part of Chapter 17 is taken up with discussing Hogarth in the context of his rivals, and especially Van Loo. I’ve put four of Van Loo’s typical paintings in our Hogarth album: you can see his flattery of children, of aristocrats, the semi-salacious tone, and the kind of rococo style that made money. This is the closest Hogarth comes to this kind of thing:

Hogarth’s A Fishing Party

Then we learn of Hogarth’s friends who made money this way as well as how he was still excluded from court because he limited his flattery.

The strength of the chapter is in the last two-thirds: detailed readings of Hogarth’s portraiture and conversation pieces where Uglow puts to work an extraordinary detailed knowledge of individuals of the era at the same time as she reads every gesture in each painting to the point she has written little novels and biographies about each group of people and the singletons too.

I can’t repeat the detail as it just has to be read, but have a look at his Western Family carefully and you will see so many gestures and expressions that call out for “reading” and interpretation:

The Western Family

I learned a lot about the individuals in these genre paintings, and occasionally was glad to learn what this or that person I’ve read elsewhere about really looked.

Her political and social perspective is congenial with mine, and with her I rejoiced in the tale of Mary Edwards, a super rich heiress, who fooled and pushed into a quick marriage by a man who then proceeded to impregnate, bully and spend her money, had the courage to attack the documents and by law get herself unmarried to him, and bastardize the child so as to remain free and independent. She then lived her own life uncompromisingly — the figure is seen in the painting which is reprinted in color.

Mary Edwards

For the individual portraits she points out how Hogarth combined the popularity of busts with portraiture so his paintings are often at core a bust of the person turned into a painting. She also includes a remarkable bust of Hogarth himself: we see the pugnacious fleshy emotional man before us — as well as his dog by Roubilac:

Hogarth’s dog by Roubiliac

Apparently the Hogarths had no children – at least Jane had none, and Uglow attributes to some of the paintings of children an intense fondness and affection which accompanies an unsentimental eye a longing for children in Hogarth. There’s no proof.

How hard he worked too. She shows how hard each detail and how much effort went into the painting especially. For this painting Uglow lavished attention and content:

The Graham Children

I thought to myself her affection for children was what is being read here, or over-read a bit. I did like her analysis even of a cat about to leap on the bird and all the dogs.


Having a Good Time (from Marriage a La Mode)

Chapter 18 centers on Marriage a La Mode. Until I began to read this book thoroughly, I have not been one to like these moral allegory pictures. They have seemed to me dull, mostly because what leaps out to my eyes is didacticism, and didacticism of a obvious type. I could see that the faces in Hogarth’s pictures are individualized, and certainly I had nothing against the general moral, one I think could be reinforced today, with a little bit of tinkering perfectly a propos: people who marry in ceremonies costing oodles of money with all their emphasis on the what they are going to get to start life out with (what apartment or house), which job, which set of friends, are just asking for a probable result: not only an expensive divorce but years of paying debts on wedding, honeymoon and whatever else. Princess for a night. Right.

By the time Uglow finishes reading one of Hogarth’s pictures though I have seen life’s tragedy and Hogarth’s own ironic takes on it: as Uglow puts it, “there is no happy resolution for Moll Hackabout or Tom Rakewell, or for the new Earl or his Countess. Instead, after an illusory whirl of excitement, they slide down a bleak declining curve. This is what we would have seen in the lives of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire except (like Plantagenet Palliser in Trollope’s novels), the Duke was so fabulously rich — on the backs of everyone else.

On the picture called “The Death of the Earl (see above),” Uglow remarks: “his young wife kneels like a Magdalen, clasping her hands in penitence. Part of the shock comes from a sense of blasphemous travestry, yet this too is a la mode — from the restoration onwards grand ladies of the Court had, as Pope said, enjoyed being painted as Magdalens. Yet beneath the double irony there is that familiar, ironic Hogarthian insistence that real life can be a cruxifixion without a mythic promise of redemption.

In the “Death of the Countess,” yes “shockingly, the comedy of life goes on.” Auden said dogs carry on their doggie lives, but here we see how much fun the others continue to have (irony intended).

And throughout the chapter (serendipity this) Uglow connects Hogarth’s work to Fielding’s, their lives, and their attitudes towards one other; good friends, real congeniality. Here is Fielding as editor of The Champion .. in the guise of Captain Hercules Vinegar of Hockley in the Hole:

‘”to attack all hypo­crites, slanderers, false scholars and ambitious politicians. In June 1740, to explain the teaching power of satire, he used the same motto that Hogarth had placed above his final version of The Beggar’s Opera, ‘tamquam in speculum’­’even as in a mirror’. Visual examples beat verbal argument hollow, declared Fielding – ‘our eyes convey the idea more briskly to our understanding than our ears’ – but a guide was still needed, and who better than ‘the ingenious Mr Hogarth … one of the most useful satirists any age hath produced’:
‘In his excellent works you see the delusive scene exposed with all the force of humour, and on casting your eyes on another picture you behold the dreadful and fatal consequence. I almost dare affirm that those two works of his, which he calls the Rake’s and the Harlot’s Progress, are calculated more to serve the cause of virtue, and for the preservation of mankind, than all the folios of morality which were ever written; and a sober family should no more be without them, than without the Whole Duty of Man in their house.’

‘Hogarth as Moralist’ would be stressed by solemn commentators in just this way in the late eighteenth century. But critics who cite Fielding as the instigator of this view always quote out of context; he never wrote without irony and it is fatal to read him straight – this is ‘Captain Hercules Vinegar’ speaking and Captain Vinegar likes extremes. Immediately before his accolade to Hogarth, he gives a ‘personal’ example:

‘I have heard of an old gentleman, who, to preserve his son from conversing with prostitutes, took him, when very young, to the most abandoned brothels in this town, and to so good purpose, that the young man carried a sound body into his wife’s arms at eight and twenty … ‘
Perhaps, he admits drily, such scenes may not always have the same effect: this is why a man needs a ‘monitor’. With the ludicrous example in mind, conjuring up Hogarth’s rowdy brothel scenes, few people could read the line about ‘a sober family’ needing his prints as much as the Whole Duty of Man without a chuckle” (Uglow, p. 367).

Maybe I should reread The Whole of Duty of Man. That’s another one I thought deadly dull — what I need to do is approach it as camp in the way Vinegar manages …

“The Marriage Contract” (phase 1 of Marriage a La Mode)


Hogarth’s Assembly Party

I recommend this book with but one complaint or exception. It’s filled with vivid life. It’s a treat to read for Uglow’s sensibility as well as a brilliant work in art criticism and biography. You also learn a good deal about the era in specifics of all kinds; the foundling hospital, subsistence living, and infanticide — and thus attitudes which shaped sexuality in the era.

But nothing about women’s lives is told by themselves. It’s true that we have few documents of the private lives of women, and this would go for the lower middle class milieu around Hogarth. But there were some women artists even if not connected to Hogarth; and there are books recounting probabilities of women’s lives in Hogarth’s milieu. Finally, Uglow could have at least not taken Fielding’s views of women unqualified as acceptable. Her lack of interest and real sympathy for Sarah Malcolm is but one case in point.

This is a book about the professional worlds of men.

This is not to say Uglow usually does this: e.g., her George Eliot may be the best of the literary biographies in terms of perspective. After telling Eliot’s life up to the time Eliot became a settled writer of essays and Lewes’s partner, Uglow makes sense of Eliot’s politics (feminist, religious, humanist, socialist) in the context of Eliot’s ideas about how social life works and how necessary and difficult it is for most to survive. Then she places this against the novels which are often (irritatingly) far more conservative in thrust, and attempts to read the novels in this dual register. Her magisterial literary biography Elizabeth Stevenson’s Gaskell’s life and art, A Habit of Stories, needs no more than a citation from me. She has has written one of the frankest accounts of simple rape I’ve ever come across, showing it in its full banal cruelty (in a diary enter for the London Review of Books).

For the last third of Uglow’s Hogarth, see the comments: how he revealed the corrupt elections, then what he endured as reprisals: harsh caricatures and satires on his art, some painfully insightful (by among others Charles Churchill and Paul Sandby); his get-away existence in a suburban house (still standing), later friend; what we can gather about his wife and sister’s lives, and finally the last ill and understandably (what Uglow [herself perhaps too successful at this point] calls) paranoid and embittered life’s close.

Paul Sandy, Windsor Terrace at Night — he was one of those who most persistently caricatured Hogarth


Read Full Post »