Hogarth and the Elephantine Arch

In 1761, George III was crowned in Westminster Hall. As Master Carpenter of the Board of Works, one of William Oram‘s tasks was to construct and decorate a triumphal arch through which the King’s Champion would ride. A print of the arch was engraved by Anthony Walker:

William Henry Pyne included an anecdote about Hogarth, Hayman and other artists teasing Oram during the construction of the arch in his rambling, entertaining, and largely fictitious work, Wine and Walnuts. It should be remembered that Pyne was not yet born when the incident related allegedly took place. However, it is the only extended anecdote involving Oram that I know, so here it is (with Pyne’s epic footnotes suppressed, but eccentric punctuation retained):

Oram, Tilley Kettle, and some others, artists, long almost forgotten, had been employed in touching up their designs for the triumphal arches, under which Squire Dymoke [the Champion] was to make his grand entry, from the north gate, into the hall. The architecture was well conceived, and the allegories painted with spirit, and in bold relief. Hogarth and Hayman, with others, accompanied my great uncle. These distinguished painters, together with Monsieur Roquet, the enamel painter, had been speaking very warmly in praise of the work. Oram, the principal conductor, he who subsequently painted part of the staircase at Buckingham House, was touchy, and rather vain of his talents, and apt to fancy that all were envious but himself. On perceiving this group of clever fellows upon the dais at the other end, he bid the carpenters be quiet, and bawled out, the whole length of the building, “Well, gentlemen! brother brushes! how do you like the effect? Do you think it will tell its own tale?” Roquet, who delighted in a bit of humour, held up his finger, and whispered, “Hist! let us have the little dust vif him, and give him von genteel raps of his knuckles, for his too much of vanities. Oh! mon Dieu! It is good for to put him in the passion, and will valk all the way since the bottom of the halls to the top, to abuse us every one.” “Tell its tale!” said Frank Hayman; “yes, it will tell well enough to those who carry a spy-glass. Pray inform us,” bawling, till the hall echoed, “pray tell us what does it all mean?” Oram, already entangled in the snare, angrily returned, “It will tell to those who have eyes;” murmuring in a lower voice, “none so blind as those who won’t see.” Then raising his tone again, he demanded, “What is your opinion, Mister Hogarth? every one knows you are not prejudiced.” “Humph!” said Garrick; “he is spouting down your back, Willy.” “Send me up your spectacles,” vociferated Hogarth, “and I will let you know.” “Baugh! Baugh!” said Oram, “the fools are mocking me;” and as he proceeded with his work, brushing away with greater dispatch, he grumbled loud enough for Frank to discover what he uttered. Frank had quick ears, in allusion to which Garrick once said at the club, “The listening looby can hear the grass grow.” “Hark!” said Frank, “he says, that you and I are envious curs, come here to snarl at his reputation!” “God help him!” said Hogarth; and feeling disposed to proceed with the joke, he called out, “Stand aside, Oram; I perceive now – the light is full upon it.” “Well,” cried Oram, rubbing his hands; “and how does it strike?” “Oh! It is marvelously striking,” said the mischievous artist; “it strikes us all on a heap. Stop!” for Oram was proceeding up the steps again to work, indignant; “stop, Oram; it strikes me that the castle is too little for the elephant; and it strikes us all that his legs straddle woundedly too wide; and where is his proboscis?” Hogarth, ever ready with his talent at travestie, had converted the columns of the piers into the legs of the huge animal; the arch for the space between, and the frieze with the emblems for the castle and warriors. “And it strikes us,” added Hogarth, “that we ought to see his tail.” Here the party burst into laughter. “Just as I did forsee me,” said Roquet; “here he comes, by Gar! Marbleu! Like the royal challenger himself, riding the furies, and the devil may he take up and run away with the gauntlet.”

Oram ascended, puffing with rage, “What elephant – what castle do you mean?” Hayman laughed. “I’ll warrant me,” said Oram, “if your proboscis (Frank had a right noble nose) was stuck up at the other end, it might be seen without a spy-glass.” “Why attack me, man?” said Frank, “it was Hogarth there who looked for the elephant’s beak.” “He!” said Oram – “every body know he has got no nose at all.” The two painters unconsciously felt their noses. Hogarth certainly had none to spare.

“Why Mistare Orams! Mistare Orams!” said Roquet, “permit me, if you please (bowing very low at the same time) to ask if you have got no nose yourself?” “Me, sir,” said Oram, “what do you mean?” “Why if you had the nose at all, you might have smelled with your nose the little good-humoured joke of our friendly partee, who have praise your picture to the skies, that shall make you blush, if I tell you all the compliment. But, no! Mistare Orams, you always are more furious as von dindon, vat you call turkey-cocks, and do not know his kind friend from his enemies. Ha! Ha! Mistare Orams, I am glad to bring you all this way to ask you how you do, Mistare Orams, and to have the pleasure to tell you, your picture is very pretty, Mistare Orams, very brilliante, and very much admire by all the connoisseur around.” Oram cordially shook all their hands, bowed at their approbation, and took the party into an adjoin room, to his friend, the king’s cook, where we had refreshments, and among other rarities, a cut of the first sirloin that had been cooked upon a coronation spit. We drank their Majesties’ health in glorious old hock. “Who could desire a better friend,” said Davy Garrick, “than the king’s master cook?”

 

References:

Pyne, William Henry, 1823. Wine and Walnuts, Volume 2.

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One thought on “Hogarth and the Elephantine Arch

  1. Pingback: William Oram | Kirby and his world

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