|Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916.|
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
|By William Makepeace Thackeray (18111863)|
From English Humourists
THE FAMOUS set of pictures called Mariage à la Mode, and which are now exhibited in the National Gallery in London, contains the most important and highly wrought of the Hogarth comedies. The care and method with which the moral grounds of these pictures are laid is as remarkable as the wit and skill of the observing and dexterous artist. He has to describe the negotiations for a marriage pending between the daughter of a rich citizen Alderman and young Lord Viscount Squanderfield, the dissipated son of a gouty old Earl. Pride and pomposity appear in every accessory surrounding the Earl. He sits in gold lace and velvetas how should such an Earl wear anything but velvet and gold lace? His coronet is everywhere; on his footstool, on which reposes one gouty toe turned out; on the sconces and looking-glasses; on the dogs; on his lordships very crutches; on his great chair of state and the great baldaquin behind him under which he sits pointing majestically to his pedigree, which shows that his race is sprung from the loins of William the Conqueror, and confronting the old Alderman from the City, who has mounted his sword for the occasion, and wears his Aldermans chain, and has brought a bag full of money, mortgage deeds, and thousand pound notes for the arrangement of the transaction pending between them. Whilst the steward (a Methodisttherefore a hypocrite and cheat; for Hogarth scorned a Papist and a Dissenter) is negociating between the old couple, their children sit together united but apart. My lord is admiring his countenance in the glass, while his bride is twiddling her marriage ring on her pocket-handkerchief, and listening with a rueful countenance to Counsellor Silvertongue, who has been drawing the settlements. The girl is pretty, but the painter with a curious watchfulness, has taken care to give her a likeness to her father; as in the young Viscounts face you see a resemblance to the Earl, his noble sire. The sense of the coronet pervades the picture, as it is supposed to do the mind of its wearer. The pictures round the room are sly hints indicating the situation of the parties about to marry. A martyr is led to the fire; Andromeda is offered to sacrifice; Judith is going to slay Holofernes. There is the ancestor of the house, in the picture it is the Earl himself as a young man, with a comet over his head, indicating that the career of the family is to be brilliant and brief. In the second picture, the old lord must be dead, for Madam has now the Countesss coronet over her bed and toilet-glass, and sits listening to that dangerous Counsellor Silvertongue, whose portrait now actually hangs up in her room, whilst the counsellor takes his ease on the sofa by her side, evidently the familiar of the house, and the confidant of the mistress. My lord takes his pleasure elsewhere than at home, whither he returns jaded and tipsy from the Rose, to find his wife yawning in her drawing-room, her whist party over, and the daylight streaming in, or he amuses himself with the very worst company abroad, whilst his wife sits at home listening to foreign singers, or wastes her money at auctions, or, worse still, seeks amusements at masquerades. The dismal end is known. My lord draws upon the counsellor, who kills him, and is apprehended while endeavouring to escape. My lady goes back perforce to the Alderman in the City, and faints upon reading Counsellor Silvertongues dying speech at Tyburn, where the counsellor has been executed for sending his lordship out of the world. Moral:Dont listen to evil silver-tongued counsellors: dont marry a man for his rank, or a woman for her money: dont frequent foolish auctions and masquerade balls unknown to your husband: dont have wicked companions abroad and neglect your wife, otherwise you will be run through the body, and ruin will ensue, and disgrace, and Tyburn. The people are all naughty, and Bogey carries them all off. In the Rakes Progress, a loose life is ended by a similar sad catastrophe. It is the spendthrift coming into possession of the wealth of the paternal miser; the prodigal surrounded by flatterers, and wasting his substance on the very worst company; the bailiffs, the gambling house, and Bedlam for an end. In the famous story of Industry and Idleness, the moral is pointed in a manner similarly clear. Fair-haired Frank Goodchild smiles at his work, whilst naughty Tom Idle snores over his loom. Frank reads the edifying ballads of Whittington and the London Prentice, whilst that reprobate Tom Idle prefers Moll Flanders, and drinks hugely of beer. Frank goes to Church of a Sunday, and warbles hymns from the gallery; whilst Tom lies on a tombstone outside playing at halfpenny-under-the-hat with street blackguards, and is deservedly caned by the beadle. Frank is made overseer of the business, whilst Tom is sent to sea. Frank is taken into partnership and marries his masters daughter, sends out broken victuals to the poor, and listens in his nightcap and gown, with the lovely Mrs. Goodchild by his side, to the nuptial music of the City bands and the marrow bones and cleavers; whilst Tom Idle, returned from sea, shudders in a garret lest the officers are coming to take him for picking pockets. The Worshipful Francis Goodchild, Esq., becomes Sheriff of London, and partakes of the most splendid dinners which money can purchase or Alderman devour; whilst Poor Tom is taken up in a night cellar with that one-eyed and disreputable accomplice who first taught him to play chuck-farthing on a Sunday. What happens next? Tom is brought up before the justice of his country, in the person of Mr. Alderman Goodchild, who weeps as he recognises his old brother prentice, as Toms one-eyed friend peaches on him, and the clerk makes out the poor rogues ticket for Newgate. Then the end comes. Tom goes to Tyburn in a cart with a coffin in it; whilst the Right Honourable Francis Goodchild, Lord Mayor of London, proceeds to his Mansion House, in his gilt coach with four footmen and a swordbearer, whilst the Companies of London march in the august procession, whilst the train bands of the City fire their pieces and get drunk in his honour; andO, crowning delight and glory of allwhilst his Majesty the King looks out from his royal balcony, with his ribbon on his breast, and his Queen and his star by his side, at the corner house of St. Pauls Churchyard.