The Works of William Hogarth, by John Trusler

A Midnight Modern Conversation.

“Think not to find one meant resemblance there;

We lash the vices, but the persons spare.

Prints should be priz’d, as authors should be read,

Who sharply smile prevailing folly dead.

So Rabelais laugh’d, and so Cervantes thought;

So nature dictated what art has taught.”

Notwithstanding this inscription, which was engraved on the plate some time after its publication, it is very certain that most of these figures were intended for individual portraits; but Mr. Hogarth, not wishing to be considered as a personal satirist, and fearful of making enemies among his contemporaries, would never acknowledge who were the characters. Some of them the world might perhaps mistake; for though the author was faithful in delineating whatever he intended to portray, complete intoxication so far caricatures the countenance, that, according to the old, though trite proverb, “the man is not himself.” His portrait, though given with the utmost fidelity, will scarcely be known by his most intimate friends, unless they have previously seen him in this degrading disguise. Hence, it becomes difficult to identify men whom the painter did not choose to point out at the time; and a century having elapsed, it becomes impossible, for all who composed the group, with the artist by whom it was delineated,

Shake hands with dust, and call the worm their kinsman.

Mrs. Piozzi was of opinion that the divine with a cork-screw, occasionally used as a tobacco-stopper, hanging upon his little finger, was the portrait of parson Ford, Dr. Johnson’s uncle; though, upon the authority of Sir John Hawkins, of anecdotish memory, it has been generally supposed to be intended for Orator Henley. As both these worthies were distinguished by that rubicundity of face with which it is marked, the reader may decree the honour of a sitting to which he pleases.

The roaring bacchanalian who stands next him, waving his glass in the air, has pulled off his wig, and, in the zeal of his friendship, crowns the divine’s head. He is evidently drinking destruction to fanatics, and success to mother church, or a mitre to the jolly parson whom he addresses.

The lawyer, who sits near him, is a portrait of one Kettleby, a vociferous bar-orator, who, though an utter barrister, chose to distinguish himself by wearing an enormous full-bottom wig, in which he is here represented. He was farther remarkable for a diabolical squint, and a satanic smile.

A poor maudlin miserable, who is addressing him, when sober, must be a fool; but, in this state, it would puzzle Lavater to assign him a proper class. He seems endeavouring to demonstrate to the lawyer, that, in a poi — poi — point of law, he has been most cruelly cheated, and lost a cau — cau — cause, that he ought to have got — and all this was owing to his attorney being an infernal villain. This may very probably be true; for the poor man’s tears show that, like the person relieved by the good Samaritan, he has been among thieves. The barrister grins horribly at his misfortunes, and tells him he is properly punished for not employing a gentleman.

Next to him sits a gentleman in a black periwig. He politely turns his back to the company, that he may have the pleasure of smoking a sociable pipe.

The justice, “in fair round belly, with good capon lin’d,"— the justice, having hung up his hat, wig, and cloak, puts on his nightcap, and, with a goblet of superior capacity before him, sits in solemn cogitation. His left elbow, supported by the table, and his right by a chair, with a pipe in one hand, and a stopper in the other, he puffs out the bland vapour with the dignity of an alderman, and fancies himself as great as Jupiter, seated upon the summit of Mount Olympus, enveloped by the thick cloud which his own breath has created.

With folded arms and open mouth, another leans back in his chair. His wig is dropped from his head, and he is asleep; but though speechless, he is sonorous; for you clearly perceive that, where nasal sounds are the music, he is qualified to be leader of the band.

The fallen hero, who with his chair and goblet has tumbled to the floor, by the cockade in his hat, we suppose to be an officer. His forehead is marked, perhaps with honourable scars. To wash his wounds, and cool his head, the staggering apothecary bathes it with brandy.

A gentleman in the corner, who, from having the Craftsman and London Evening in his pocket, we determine to be a politician, very unluckily mistakes his ruffle for the bowl of his pipe, and sets fire to it.

The person in a bag-wig and solitaire, with his hand upon his head, would not now pass for a fine gentleman, but in the year 1735 was a complete beau. Unaccustomed to such joyous company, he appears to have drank rather more than agrees with him.

The company consists of eleven, and on the chimney-piece, floor, and table, are three and twenty empty flasks. These, added to a bottle which the apothecary holds in his hand, prove that this select society have not lost a moment. The overflowing bowl, full goblets, and charged glasses, prove that they think, “’Tis too early to part,” though the dial points to four in the morning.

The different degrees of drunkenness are well discriminated, and its effects admirably described. The poor simpleton, who is weeping out his woes to honest lawyer Kettleby, it makes mawkish; the beau it makes sick; and the politician it stupifies. One is excited to roaring, and another lulled to sleep. It half closes the eyes of justice, renders the footing of physic unsure, and lays prostrate the glory of his country, and the pride of war.


A Midnight Modern Conversation.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hogarth/william/trusler/chapter25.html

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