“ The Neatest and Most Finished of all the Engravings by Hogarth ”
Hogarth, William (1697 London 1764). Two Plates for Miltons. On the one side a devilish scenery, on the other a concert of heavenly hosts with a little devil buzzing down. Two works on one sheet as probably for the 1st & 3rd book of Paradise Lost. Engraving by Thomas Cook (c. 1744 – London 1818). Inscribed: Hogarth pinxt. / T. Cook sculpt. / Published by Longman, Hurst, Rees, & Orme, May 1st. 1809., otherwise as above. Subject size 6 × 7 in (15.2 × 17.8 cm).
While Mr. Nichols finds it strange that Hogarth should have created one illustration each for said two books only – in analogy, however, to the double design Perseus & Andromeda – and supposes that they were not used in any edition, rather had been intended for some oratorio or similar operatic performance neither printed nor performed, John Trusler swears that if necessary the master may never have read Milton’s Paradise Lost and that especially the devilish racket could be related to any other work of fancy rather than Milton’s poem. To which a contemporary reader of The Gentleman’s Magazine, who had had the privilege to see Mr. Walpole’s copies of both, strongly objects:
“ Throughout Mr. Nichols’s excellent but unequal account of Hogarth and his works, there is no decision I am so much inclined to controvert, as that respecting the first of the two plates to Milton. Perhaps the critic had only seen some imperfect copy of the Pandæmonium, or formed his idea of it on the vague description of those who had considered it with less attention than it really deserves … our artist’s arrangement of the infernal senate affords
a happy instance of his power to exhibit scenes of picturesque sublimity .
The ample space within the arcade, containing myriads of subordinate spirits; the vault above, illuminated by supernatural fires; the magnificence and elevation of Satan’s throne; his superior stature, and the characteristic symbols over the seats of his peers; are circumstances entitled to a more flattering reception than they have met with. That this print has likewise absurdities, I am ready to allow; yet a Voltaire might ask whether most of them are not inseparable from its subject. I wish, for the sake of those who acknowledge the genius of Hogarth only in familiar combinations, that the plate in question were less rare …
“ Let me add, that these two are the neatest and most finished of all the engravings by Hogarth. The second might have been mistaken for one of the smaller works of Picart. Perhaps the high price demanded for the plates was the reason why a series of them was not continued through the other books of Paradise Lost ”
(The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1783, vol. 53, pt. I, pp. 208 ff.).
Whatever the case may be,
“ Milton’s greatest fame happened to fall into the middle of the German 18th century when his work was mobilized by Swiss critics in the fight against enlightenment which had banished the miraculous from poetry … ”
(Laaths, Geschichte der Weltliteratur, 1953, p. 373).
Cook “made his mark as Hogarth engraver, too” (Thieme-Becker); present sujets, however, he has treated supposedly for the first time only in the small edition of the years 1806/09 following his folio edition. – Trimmed within the wide, slightly brown-touched white platemark.
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