“ a … rejection of the …
romanticisation of dashing criminals ”
Some Day even Tom Nero went to far
and got his well-deserved Reward
for Brutality , Violence + Murder
Hogarth, William (1697 London 1764). The Four Stages of Cruelty. Set of 4 leaves engravings by Thomas Cook (c. 1744 – London 1818). Inscribed: Hogarth pinxt. / T. Cook sculpt. / Published by Longman, Hurst, Rees, & Orme, May 1st./March 2d./Augst. 31st./Novr. 1st. 1807. Image size 6½-6¾ × 5⅜-5½ in (16.5-17 × 13.7-14.1 cm).
1. First Stage of Cruelty. – 2. Second Stage of Cruelty. – 3. Cruelty in Perfection. – 4. The Reward of Cruelty.
Cook “made his mark as Hogarth engraver, too, whose complete work he has engraved in copy” (Thieme-Becker) and in contrast to all later Hogarth editions his original large edition distinguishes itself by maintaining Hogarth’s original format. For some sheets not published by Hogarth himself Cook became their first engraver, just as he also gained approval of a contemporary connoisseur as Maximilian Speck von Sternburg. Present here, however, in the later, smaller-sized popular edition and without the caption in three verses by supposedly Rev. James Townley. – Trimmed within the in their outer parts slightly age-marked wide white platemarks. – Of fine chiaroscuro.
“ While various Scenes of sportive Woe / The Infant Race employ,
And tortur’d Victims bleeding shew / The Tyrant in the Boy.
Behold! a Youth of gentler Heart, / To spare the Creature’s pain
O take, he cries – take all ma Tart, / But Tears and Tart are vain.
Learn from this fair Examples – You / Whom savage Sports delight,
How Cruelty disgusts the view / While Pity charms the sight. ”
Surrounded by a rich assortment of street urchins tormenting animals by partially simply brute, partially more refined though simple means, Tom Nero does his master piece, the torture of a dog Hogarth took from Callot’s Temptation of Saint Anthony. From which he cannot be kept by a boy of better descent and aptitude, supposedly the then 13-year-old George III. This together a pun as “noble” stands for both “of noble birth” and “noble-minded”. Accordingly “Neronian” in a figurative sense “blood-thirsty, cruel” (Kunsthaus Zürich). Meanwhile another boy anticipates the conclusion of Tom Nero’s development and sketches him on the wall as hanging on the gallows.
“ The generous Steed in hoary Age / Subdu’d by Labour lies;
And mourns a cruel Master’s rage, / While Nature Strength denies.
The tender Lamb o’er drove and faint, / Amidst expiring Throws;
Bleats forth it’s innocent complaint / And dies beneath the Blows.
Inhuman Wretch! say whence proceeds / This coward Cruelty?
What Int’rest springs from barb’rous deeds? / What Joy from Misery? ”
Tom Nero has reached a new level. Not alone he became a cab driver, with downright enthusiastic bestiality he beats his horse to death with the whip-stick because it was not able to draw the burden of four attorneys over a step on the street at Thavie’s Inn Coffee House and broke down:
“ That inhumanity
whose beginnings promised much on the first leaf with the boy,
reached perfect ripeness in the man ”
The same by the way happens to a lamb by its driver, something similar to an overloaded ass in the background. And equally it will fare to a bull which for the moment fights back successfully by throwing a man into the air.
Nevertheless Tom’s rage is not completely without reason. Since – so Lichtenberg – “(e)ven every single one of the four would be able to bring the coachman to the Justice of the Peace to enforce forfeit for the suffered shock”. Not to speak of the fifth, a common informer who does this professionally, and who of course is already on the spot.
Besides Hogarth introduces the rudeness of the humans among themselves in everyday life as for pleasure, too. While the boy run over by the sleeping drayman – “supposedly the drayman will know to comfort himself over the unlucky boy, but have quite different feelings in regard of the suffered (beer) damage” – originates from recklessness, so besides cock-fights the posters call the attention to box matches. One of the fighters, James Field, will be met again later.
“ To lawless Love when once betray’d, / Soon Crime to Crime succeeds:
At length beguil’d to Theft, the Maid / By her Beguiler bleeds.
Yet learn seducing Man! nor Night, / With all its sable Cloud,
Can screen the guilty Deed from sight; / Foul Murder cries aloud.
The gaping Wounds, and blood stain’d steel, / Now shock his trembling Soul:
But Oh! what Pangs his Breast must feel, / When Death his Knell shell toll. ”
The coachman became a highwayman who got his sweetheart to a shabby robbery at her mistress. But Tom became already tired of the seduced and her pangs of conscience:
“ That disposition for raw cruelty which at the beginning only showed up with animals has reached its perfect development and ends in a murder of the most atrocious kind ”
However, the crime in the nightly churchyard is observed and Tom is overwhelmed and bound by the neighbours armed with sticks and dung forks:
“ The owl approaching from the back tells of the wisdom underlying all events and of the big turning point in Tom Nero’s’life: It is on him now
to pocket the just deserts for his cruelties ”
“ Behold the Villain’s dire disgrace! / Not Death itself can end.
He finds no peaceful Burial-Place; / His breathless Corse, no friend.
Torn from the Root, that wicked Tongue, / Which daily swore and curst!
Those Eyeballs, from their Socket’s wrung; / That glow’d with lawless Lust!
His Heart, expos’d to prying Eyes, / To Pity has no Claim:
But, dreadful from his Bones shall rise, / His Monument of shame. ”
After the sentence has been executed Tom finds himself in the dissection room and thus in best company. Because left and right in the wall niches the prepared skeletons of previously hanged boxer James Field and highwayman MacLeane resp. stand
“ like bearers of the emblem of the medical faculty to which both point. This coat of arms over the president’s chair serving to the latter’s dignified head just like a crown consists of a hand feeling the pulse of another. And in a very graceful way, indeed, with the small finger. Ireland notes at this that a hand which takes a guinea – the ordinary fee for a consultation – would be suited better for the learned faculty ”
If more recently Paulson believes that in connection with the Murder Act of 1752 which decreed the bodies of executed murderers to be displayed in chains or handed over to dissection Hogarth intended to set a sign with this last leaf against the “legal” cruelty of the “possessing” classes, to raise an Enough, enough!, a Not-beyond-death, then this no doubt underlines the frequent ambiguity of Hogarth’s works, but misses the point at least by such an exclusiveness and is at best a side-issue. For once his engravings were already published February 1751, the poster-like woodcuts Hogarth commissioned J. Bell with – only ll. 3 + 4 were actually executed – even in early 1750, thus 1-2 years before the law.
Further from this point of view Hogarth would have missed his documented intention outright since then the woodcuts would have been unnecessary as the addressees of such criticism would have been just the “possessing”, but not the scum of the people for whom the woodcuts, erroneously thought to be cheap in production, were intended. And just for these the sujet – so Lichtenberg, too – had to be especially impressing:
“ Obviously he chose the dissection of the corpse as the prejudices of the lower classes in England regard this as just as great a misfortune as the execution by hanging, and keep an opinion about anatomists that absolutely corresponds to that prejudice. The artist delineated the anatomic theatre here accordingly; it is a second kitchen of Hecate. ”
Finally Paulson misses Hogarth’s commitment to the Foundling Hospital and the natural care about the future of the children raised there. At whose cruelties to animals – in the centre just the foundling Tom Nero – as a school of brutality becoming a habit the set starts. And in spite of introducing the boxers the second leaf still lays the emphasis on cruelty to animals, now though in everyday life and spare time of adults:
“ The four stages of cruelty were done in hopes of preventing in some degree that cruel treatment of poor Animals which makes the streets of London more disagreeable to the human mind than anything whatever, the very describing of which gives pain … ”
A purpose Hogarth by the the way succeeded in and thus broke an early lance for the prevention of cruelty to animals:
“ … there is no part of my works of which I am so proud, and in which I feel so happy as in the series of the four Stages of Cruelty because I believe the publication of them has checked the diabolical spirit of barbarty, which, I am sorry to say was once so prevalent in this country … I had rather, if cruelty has been prevented by the four prints, be maker of them than of the (Raphael) cartoons, unless I lived in a Roman Catholic country ”.
But beyond this then cause in its general message
of a downright frightening timelessness .
Because those adhering to the zeitgeist with appeasingly raised forefingers and endless care for the delinquents while only striving for a release from their quite personal responsibility for the entirety of the society – none speaks of the victims anyway –
Hogarth confronts with a “ Restrain the beginnings ”
as it hardly could be more current + more distinct .
Because as unimaginable the tortures of the first two leaves may be for us today, as unimaginable the brutality of terror attacks which strived for greatest possible agonies and pains by most simple means – thus once again just as in Hogarth’s leaves – seemed until recently. Exactly,
restrain the beginnings .
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