The Works of William Hogarth, by John Trusler

The Chorus.

Rehearsal of the Oratorio of Judith.

“O cara, cara! silence all that train,

Joy to great chaos! let division reign.”

The Oratorio of Judith, Mr. Ireland observes, was written by Esquire William Huggins, honoured by the music of William de Fesch, aided by new painted scenery and magnifique decoration, and in the year 1733 brought upon the stage. As De Fesch2 was a German and a genius, we may fairly presume it was well set; and there was at that time, as at this, a sort of musical mania, that paid much greater attention to sounds than to sense; notwithstanding all these points in her favour, when the Jewish heroine had made her theatrical début, and so effectually smote Holofernes,

——"As to sever

His head from his great trunk for ever and for ever.”

the audience compelled her to make her exit. To set aside this partial and unjust decree, Mr. Huggins appealed to the public, and printed his oratorio. Though it was adorned with a frontispiece designed by Hogarth, and engraved by Vandergucht, the world could not be compelled to read, and the unhappy writer had no other resource than the consolatory reflection, that his work was superlatively excellent, but unluckily printed in a tasteless age; a comfortable and solacing self-consciousness, which hath, I verily believe, prevented many a great genius from becoming his own executioner.

To paint a sound is impossible; but as far as art can go towards it, Hogarth has gone in this print. The tenor, treble, and bass of these ear-piercing choristers are so decisively discriminated, that we all but hear them.

The principal figure, whose head, hands, and feet are in equal agitation, has very properly tied on his spectacles; it would have been prudent to have tied on his periwig also, for by the energy of his action he has shaken it from his head, and, absorbed in an eager attention to true time, is totally unconscious of his loss.

A gentleman — pardon me, I meant a singer — in a bag wig, immediately beneath his uplifted hand, I suspect to be of foreign growth. It has the engaging air of an importation from Italy.

The little figure in the sinister corner, is, it seems, intended for a Mr. Tothall, a woollen-draper, who lived in Tavistock-court, and was Hogarth’s intimate friend.

The name of the performer on his right hand,

——"Whose growling bass

Would drown the clarion of the braying ass,”

I cannot learn, nor do I think that this group were meant for particular portraits, but a general representation of the violent distortions into which these crotchet-mongers draw their features on such solemn occasions.

Even the head of the bass-viol has air and character: by the band under the chin, it gives some idea of a professor, or what is, I think, called a Mus. D.

The words now singing, “The world shall bow to the Assyrian throne,” are extracted from Mr. Huggins’ oratorio; the etching is in a most masterly style, and was originally given as a subscription ticket to the Modern Midnight Conversation.

I have seen a small political print on Sir Robert Walpole’s administration, entitled, “Excise, a new Ballad Opera,” of which this was unquestionably the basis. Beneath it is the following learned and poetical motto:

"Experto crede Roberto."

“Mind how each hireling songster tunes his throat,

And the vile knight beats time to every note:

So Nero sung while Rome was all in flames,

But time shall brand with infamy their names.”

2 He was a respectable performer on the violin, some years chapel-master at Antwerp, and several seasons leader of the band at Marybone Gardens. He published a collection of musical compositions, to which was annexed a portrait of himself, characterised by three lines from Milton:

“Thou honour’dst verse, and verse must lend her wing

To honour thee, the priest of Phœbus’ quire,

That tun’st her happiest lines in hymn or song.”

He died in 1750, aged seventy years, and gives one additional name to a catalogue I have somewhere seen of very old professors of music, who, saith my author, “generally live unto a greater age than persons in any other way of life, from their souls being so attuned unto harmony, that they enjoy a perpetual peace of mind.” It has been observed, and I believe justly, that thinking is a great enemy to longevity, and that, consequently, they who think least will be likely to live longest. The quantity of thought necessary to make an adept in this divine science, must be determined by those who have studied it. — It would seem by this remark, that Mr. Ireland was not aware that to acquire proficiency in the divine science to which he so pleasantly alludes, requires great application and study.


The Chorus.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hogarth/william/trusler/chapter23.html

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