Critiques of Analysis of Beauty

Paul Sandby didn’t have it all his own way in his attacks on William Hogarth in the wake of the publication of the Analysis of Beauty. Despite misgivings in some quarters about Hogarth’s pretensions in reducing art to the `line of beauty’, the book was generally well-received. Paulson devotes a chapter to its reception in his 3-volume biography of Hogarth, giving a long description of various reviews from lengthy treatments, including one possibly written by Samuel Johnson for the Gentleman’s Magazine, to short poetic squibs. Paulson’s summary of the immediate reception in London is that, “The reviews acknowledged both its originality and its usefulness for a variety of readers. But they also leave the impression that Hogarth had strong friends within the literary establishment, and that his enemies were a small group centered in the St. Martin’s Lane Academy” (Paulson iii, 142). In other words, literary reviews were as much about personalities and politics as they were about the content of the reviewed work. At the time there was a great deal of ferment in artistic London with a group attempting to form an Academy with professorships and closed membership, a move opposed by Hogarth.

Among the lighter responses to the publication of the Analysis of Beauty quoted by Paulson is the following verse, which Paulson cites as appearing in the London Evening Post of 7—9 February 1754, a couple of months after the book first appeared the previous December (Paulson iii, 144). However, the anonymous lines had seen print right at the beginning of the controversial reception, being published in the Public Advertiser of 18 December 1753, coincidentally the very same issue that carried the report of the death of John Kirby, Joshua’s father, on the 13th of December.

To Mr HOGARTH

Tho’ Scriblers, Witlings, Connoisseurs revile,

Thy Book shall live an Honour to this Isle:

Exert, once more, thy Analysing Art,

And five the World the Beauty’s Counterpart:

Dissect the Passions which the Works create;

Delineate Envy, Ignorance, and Hate.

 

 

References

Paulson, R. (1991). Hogarth. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

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