“No friend’s complaint, no kind domestic tear,
Pleas’d thy pale ghost, or grac’d thy mournful bier:
By harlots’ hands thy dying eyes were clos’d;
By harlots’ hands thy decent limbs compos’d;
By harlots’ hands thy humble grave adorn’d;
By harlots honour’d, and by harlots mourn’d.”
The adventures of our heroine are now concluded. She is no longer an actor in her own tragedy; and there are those who have considered this print as a farce at the end of it: but surely such was not the author’s intention.
The ingenious writer of Tristram Shandy begins the life of his hero before he is born; the picturesque biographer of Mary Hackabout has found an opportunity to convey admonition, and enforce his moral, after her death. A wish usually prevails, even among those who are most humbled by their own indiscretion, that some respect should be paid to their remains; that their eyes should be closed by the tender hand of a surviving friend, and the tear of sympathy and regret shed upon the sod which covers their grave; that those who loved them living, should attend their last sad obsequies; and a sacred character read over them the awful service which our religion ordains, with the solemnity it demands. The memory of this votary of prostitution meets with no such marks of social attention, or pious respect. The preparations for her funeral are as licentious as the progress of her life, and the contagion of her example seems to reach all who surround her coffin. One of them is engaged in the double trade of seduction and thievery; a second is contemplating her own face in a mirror. The female who is gazing at the corpse, displays some marks of concern, and feels a momentary compunction at viewing the melancholy scene before her: but if any other part of the company are in a degree affected, it is a mere maudlin sorrow, kept up by glasses of strong liquor. The depraved priest does not seem likely to feel for the dead that hope expressed in our liturgy. The appearance and employment of almost every one present at this mockery of woe, is such as must raise disgust in the breast of any female who has the least tincture of delicacy, and excite a wish that such an exhibition may not be displayed at her own funeral.
In this plate there are some local customs which mark the manners of the times when it was engraved, but are now generally disused, except in some of the provinces very distant from the capital; sprigs of rosemary were then given to each of the mourners: to appear at a funeral without one, was as great an indecorum as to be without a white handkerchief. This custom might probably originate at a time when the plague depopulated the metropolis, and rosemary was deemed an antidote against contagion. It must be acknowledged that there are also in this print some things which, though they gave the artist an opportunity of displaying his humour, are violations of propriety and customs: such is her child, but a few removes from infancy, being habited as chief mourner, to attend his parent to the grave; rings presented, and an escutcheon hung up, in a garret, at the funeral of a needy prostitute. The whole may be intended as a burlesque upon ostentatious and expensive funerals, which were then more customary than they are now. Mr. Pope has well ridiculed the same folly;
“When Hopkins dies, a thousand lights attend
The wretch who, living, sav’d a candle’s end.”
The figures have much characteristic discrimination; the woman looking into the coffin has more beauty than we generally see in the works of this artist. The undertaker’s gloating stare, his companion’s leer, the internal satisfaction of the parson and his next neighbour, are contrasted by the Irish howl of the woman at the opposite side, and evince Mr. Hogarth’s thorough knowledge of the operation of the passions upon the features. The composition forms a good shape, has a proper depth, and the light is well managed.
Sir James Thornhill’s opinion of this series may be inferred from the following circumstance. Mr. Hogarth had without consent married his daughter: Sir James, considering him as an obscure artist, was much displeased with the connexion. To give him a better opinion of his son-in-law, a common friend, one morning, privately conveyed the six pictures of the Harlot’s Progress into his drawing-room. The veteran painter eagerly inquired who was the artist; and being told, cried out, “Very well! Very well indeed! The man who can paint such pictures as these, can maintain a wife without a portion.” This was the remark of the moment; but he afterwards considered the union of his daughter with a man of such abilities an honour to his family, was reconciled, and generous.
When the publication was advertised, such was the expectation of the town, that above twelve hundred names were entered in the subscription book. When the prints appeared, they were beheld with astonishment. A subject so novel in the idea, so marked with genius in the execution, excited the most eager attention of the public. At a time when England was coldly inattentive to every thing which related to the arts, so desirous were all ranks of people of seeing how this little domestic story was delineated, that there were eight piratical imitations, besides two copies in a smaller size than the original, published, by permission of the author, for Thomas Bakewell. The whole series were copied on fan-mounts, representing the six plates, three on one side, and three on the other. It was transferred from the copper to the stage, in the form of a pantomime, by Theophilus Cibber; and again represented in a ballad opera, entitled, the Jew Decoyed; or, the Harlot’s Progress.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55