Prosperity (with harlot’s smiles,
Most pleasing when she most beguiles),
How soon, great foe, can all thy train
Of false, gay, frantic, loud, and vain,
Enter the unprovided mind,
And memory in fetters bind?
Load faith and love with golden chain,
And sprinkle Lethe o’er the brain!
Pleasure, on her silver throne,
Smiling comes, nor comes alone;
Venus comes with her along,
And smooth Lyæus, ever young;
And in their train, to fill the press,
Come apish Dance and swoln Excess,
Mechanic Honour, vicious Taste,
And Fashion in her changing vest.
We are next to consider our hero as launched into the world, and having equipped himself with all the necessaries to constitute him a man of taste, he plunges at once into all the fashionable excesses, and enters with spirit into the character he assumes.
The avarice of the penurious father then, in this print, is contrasted by the giddy profusion of his prodigal son. We view him now at his levee, attended by masters of various professions, supposed to be here offering their interested services. The foremost figure is readily known to be a dancing-master; behind him are two men, who at the time when these prints were first published, were noted for teaching the arts of defence by different weapons, and who are here drawn from the life; one of whom is a Frenchman, teacher of the small-sword, making a thrust with his foil; the other an Englishman, master of the quarter-staff; the vivacity of the first, and the cold contempt visible in the face of the second, beautifully describe the natural disposition of the two nations. On the left of the latter stands an improver of gardens, drawn also from the life, offering a plan for that purpose. A taste for gardening, carried to excess, must be acknowledged to have been the ruin of numbers, it being a passion that is seldom, if ever, satisfied, and attended with the greatest expense. In the chair sits a professor of music, at the harpsichord, running over the keys, waiting to give his pupil a lesson; behind whose chair hangs a list of the presents, one Farinelli, an Italian singer, received the next day after his first performance at the Opera House; amongst which, there is notice taken of one, which he received from the hero of our piece, thus: “A gold snuff-box, chased, with the story of Orpheus charming the brutes, by J. Rakewell, esq.” By these mementos of extravagance and pride, (for gifts of this kind proceed oftener from ostentation than generosity,) and by the engraved frontispiece to a poem, dedicated to our fashionable spendthrift, lying on the floor, which represents the ladies of Britain sacrificing their hearts to the idol Farinelli, crying out, with the greatest earnestness, “one G— d, one Farinelli,” we are given to understand the prevailing dissipation and luxury of the times. Near the principal figure in this plate is that of him, with one hand on his breast, the other on his sword, whom we may easily discover to be a bravo; he is represented as having brought a letter of recommendation, as one disposed to undertake all sorts of service. This character is rather Italian than English; but is here introduced to fill up the list of persons at that time too often engaged in the service of the votaries of extravagance and fashion. Our author would have it imagined in the interval between the first scene and this, that the young man whose history he is painting, had now given himself up to every fashionable extravagance; and among others, he had imbibed a taste for cock-fighting and horse-racing; two amusements, which, at that time, the man of fashion could not dispense with. This is evident, from his rider bringing in a silver punch-bowl, which one of his horses is supposed to have won, and his saloon being ridiculously ornamented with the portraits of celebrated cocks. The figures in the back part of this plate represent tailors, peruke-makers, milliners, and such other persons as generally fill the antichamber of a man of quality, except one, who is supposed to be a poet, and has written some panegyric on the person whose levee he attends, and who waits for that approbation he already vainly anticipates. Upon the whole, the general tenor of this scene is to teach us, that the man of fashion is too often exposed to the rapacity of his fellow creatures, and is commonly a dupe to the more knowing part of the world.
“How exactly,” says Mr. Ireland, “does Bramston describe the character in his Man of Taste:—
‘Without Italian, and without an ear,
To Bononcini’s music I adhere. ——
To boon companions I my time would give,
With players, pimps, and parasites I’d live;
I would with jockeys from Newmarket dine,
And to rough riders give my choicest wine.
My evenings all I would with sharpers spend,
And make the thief-taker my bosom friend;
In Figg, the prize-fighter, by day delight,
And sup with Colley Cibber every night.’
“Of the expression in this print, we cannot speak more highly than it deserves. Every character is marked with its proper and discriminative stamp. It has been said by a very judicious critic (the Rev. Mr. Gilpin) from whom it is not easy to differ without being wrong, that the hero of this history, in the first plate of the series, is unmeaning, and in the second ungraceful. The fact is admitted; but, for so delineating him, the author is entitled to our praise, rather than our censure. Rakewell’s whole conduct proves he was a fool, and at that time he had not learned how to perform an artificial character; he therefore looks as he is, unmeaning, and uninformed. But in the second plate he is ungraceful. — Granted. The ill-educated son of so avaricious a father could not have been introduced into very good company; and though, by the different teachers who surround him, it evidently appears that he wishes to assume the character of a gentleman, his internal feelings tell him he has not attained it. Under that consciousness, he is properly and naturally represented as ungraceful, and embarrassed in his new situation.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55