The Works of William Hogarth, by John Trusler

The Distressed Poet.

This Plate describes, in the strongest colours, the distress of an author without friends to patronise him. Seated upon the side of his bed, without a shirt, but wrapped in an old night-gown, he is now spinning a poem upon “Riches:” of their use he probably knoweth little; and of their abuse — if judgment can be formed from externals — certes, he knoweth less. Enchanted, impressed, inspired with his subject, he is disturbed by a nymph of the lactarium. Her shrill-sounding voice awakes one of the little loves, whose chorus disturbs his meditations. A link of the golden chain is broken! — a thought is lost! — to recover it, his hand becomes a substitute for the barber’s comb:— enraged at the noise, he tortures his head for the fleeting idea; but, ah! no thought is there!

Proudly conscious that the lines already written are sterling, he possesses by anticipation the mines of Peru, a view of which hangs over his head. Upon the table we see “Byshe’s Art of Poetry;” for, like the pack-horse, who cannot travel without his bells, he cannot climb the hill of Parnassus without his jingling-book. On the floor lies the “Grub-street Journal,” to which valuable repository of genius and taste he is probably a contributor. To show that he is a master of the profound, and will envelope his subject in a cloud, his pipe and tobacco-box, those friends to cogitation deep, are close to him.

His wife, mending that part of his dress, in the pockets of which the affluent keep their gold, is worthy of a better fate. Her figure is peculiarly interesting. Her face, softened by adversity, and marked with domestic care, is at this moment agitated by the appearance of a boisterous woman, insolently demanding payment of the milk-tally. In the excuse she returns, there is a mixture of concern, complacency, and mortification. As an addition to the distresses of this poor family, a dog is stealing the remnant of mutton incautiously left upon a chair.

The sloping roof, and projecting chimney, prove the throne of this inspired bard to be high above the crowd; — it is a garret. The chimney is ornamented with a dare for larks, and a book; a loaf, the tea-equipage, and a saucepan, decorate the shelf. Before the fire hangs half a shirt, and a pair of ruffled sleeves. His sword lies on the floor; for though our professor of poetry waged no war, except with words, a sword was, in the year 1740, a necessary appendage to every thing which called itself “gentleman.” At the feet of his domestic seamstress, the full-dress coat is become the resting-place of a cat and two kittens: in the same situation is one stocking, the other is half immersed in the washing-pan. The broom, bellows, and mop, are scattered round the room. The open door shows us that their cupboard is unfurnished, and tenanted by a hungry and solitary mouse. In the corner hangs a long cloak, well calculated to conceal the threadbare wardrobe of its fair owner.

Mr. Hogarth’s strict attention to propriety of scenery, is evinced by the cracked plaistering of the walls, broken window, and uneven floor, in the miserable habitation of this poor weaver of madrigals. When this was first published, the following quotation from Pope’s “Dunciad” was inscribed under the print:

“Studious he sate, with all his books around,

Sinking from thought to thought, a vast profound:

Plunged for his sense, but found no bottom there;

Then wrote and flounder’d on, in mere despair.”

All his books, amounting to only four, was, I suppose, the artist’s reason for erasing the lines.


The Distressed Poet.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hogarth/william/trusler/chapter10.html

Last updated Sunday, March 9, 2014 at 11:28