The Works of William Hogarth, by John Trusler

The Laughing Audience.

“Let him laugh now, who never laugh’d before;

And he who always laugh’d, laugh now the more.”

“From the first print that Hogarth engraved, to the last that he published, I do not think,” says Mr. Ireland, “there is one, in which character is more displayed than in this very spirited little etching. It is much superior to the more delicate engravings from his designs by other artists, and I prefer it to those that were still higher finished by his own burin.

“The prim coxcomb with an enormous bag, whose favours, like those of Hercules between Virtue and Vice, are contended for by two rival orange girls, gives an admirable idea of the dress of the day; when, if we may judge from this print, our grave forefathers, defying Nature, and despising convenience, had a much higher rank in the temple of Folly than was then attained by their ladies. It must be acknowledged that, since that period, the softer sex have asserted their natural rights; and, snatching the wreath of fashion from the brow of presuming man, have tortured it into such forms that, were it possible, which certes it is not, to disguise a beauteous face —— But to the high behest of Fashion all must bow.

“Governed by this idol, our beau has a cuff that, for a modern fop, would furnish fronts for a waistcoat, and a family fire-screen might be made of his enormous bag. His bare and shrivelled neck has a close resemblance to that of a half-starved greyhound; and his face, figure, and air, form a fine contrast to the easy and dégagée assurance of the Grisette whom he addresses.

“The opposite figure, nearly as grotesque, though not quite so formal as its companion, presses its left hand upon its breast, in the style of protestation; and, eagerly contemplating the superabundant charms of a beauty of Rubens’s school, presents her with a pinch of comfort. Every muscle, every line of his countenance, is acted upon by affectation and grimace, and his queue bears some resemblance to an ear-trumpet.

“The total inattention of these three polite persons to the business of the stage, which at this moment almost convulses the children of Nature who are seated in the pit, is highly descriptive of that refined apathy which characterises our people of fashion, and raises them above those mean passions that agitate the groundlings.

“One gentleman, indeed, is as affectedly unaffected as a man of the first world. By his saturnine cast of face, and contracted brow, he is evidently a profound critic, and much too wise to laugh. He must indisputably be a very great critic; for, like Voltaire’s Poccocurante, nothing can please him; and, while those around open every avenue of their minds to mirth, and are willing to be delighted, though they do not well know why, he analyses the drama by the laws of Aristotle, and finding those laws are violated, determines that the author ought to be hissed, instead of being applauded. This it is to be so excellent a judge; this it is which gives a critic that exalted gratification which can never be attained by the illiterate — the supreme power of pointing out faults, where others discern nothing but beauties, and preserving a rigid inflexibility of muscle, while the sides of the vulgar herd are shaking with laughter. These merry mortals, thinking with Plato that it is no proof of a good stomach to nauseate every aliment presented them, do not inquire too nicely into causes, but, giving full scope to their risibility, display a set of features more highly ludicrous than I ever saw in any other print. It is to be regretted that the artist has not given us some clue by which we might have known what was the play which so much delighted his audience: I should conjecture that it was either one of Shakespear’s comedies, or a modern tragedy. Sentimental comedy was not the fashion of that day.

“The three sedate musicians in the orchestra, totally engrossed by minims and crotchets, are an admirable contrast to the company in the pit.”


The Laughing Audience.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hogarth/william/trusler/chapter12.html

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