IN the autumn of 1748, the “Juvenal of Painting ” made that brief but memorable visit- to France, during which, some of his biographers assert, he met with a mishap which came near cutting his career short, and depriving us of the excellent work which he afterward produced. Nichols says that Hogarth was arrested at Calais, while sketching the gate of the town, and taken before the governor, who assured him that, had not the peace (of Aix la Chapelle) been actually signed, he should have been obliged to hang him forthwith upon the ramparts as a spy.
The painter’s own account of the affair makes no mention of the danger of such a serious termination of the episode. He related it thus :
” The next print I engraved was the ‘ Roast Beef of Old England ‘ (published March 6, 1749), which took its rise from a visit I paid to France the preceding year. The first time an Englishman goes from Dover to Calais, he must be struck with the different face of things at so little a distance. A farcical pomp of war, pompous parade of religion, and much bustle with very little business. To sum up all, poverty, slavery, and innate insolence, covered with an affectation of politeness, give you even here a true picture of the manners of the whole nation ; nor are the priests less opposite to those of Dover, than the two shores. The friars are dirty, sleek, and solemn ; the soldiery are lean, ragged, and tawdry ; and as to the fishwomen their faces are absolute leather.
“As I was sauntering about and observing them, near the gate which it seems was built by the English when the place was in our possession, I remarked some appearance of the arms of England on the front. By this and idle curiosity, I was prompted to make a sketch of it, which being observed, I was taken into custody; but not attempting to cancel any of my sketches or memorandums, which were found to be merely those of a painter for his private use, without any relation to fortification, it was not thought necessary to send me back to Paris. I was only closely confined to my own lodgings, till the wind changed for England ; where I no sooner arrived, than I set about the picture. Made the gate my background, and in one corner introduced my own portrait, which has generally been thought a correct likeness, with the soldier’s hand upon my shoulder. By the fat friar who stops the lean cook that is sinking under the weight of a vast sirloin of beef, and two of the military bearing off a great kettle of soupe maigre, I meant to display to my own countrymen the striking difference between the food, priests, soldiers, etc., of two nations so contiguous, that in a clear day one coast may be seen from the other. The melancholy and miserable Highlander, browsing on his scanty fare, consisting of a bit of bread and an onion, is intended for one of the many that fled from this country after the rebellion.”
“Besides the figures Hogarth mentions,” says Austin Dobson, ” there are, to the left of the picture, a pair of basket-women, who are making merry over the resemblance to a human face which a sufficiently ‘leathern ‘ fishwife has discovered in a skate she holds in her lap. But the artist has cleverly suggested a fact of which possibly they them-selves are ignorant, and that is the strong similarity between this face and their own weather-beaten features. In the representation of the two sentinels he has given full value to the ‘ ragged and tawdry ‘ element in the French soldiers. One has paper ruffles, on which the words ‘ Grand Monarch, P’ are plainly legible ; his smallclothes are fastened by a skewer, and he has a large hole in his gaiter. Opposite, his equally famished and tattered companion spills his skillet of soup from sheer bewilderment at the goodly English fare. Next to this personage is the squinting and stunted figure of an Irish mercenary, to whose national bravery the painter has paid a compliment by giving him a bullet-hole through his hat. In the back-ground, through the gate, a priest is carrying the Host to a sick person, and the people fall on their knees as it passes. The fat Franciscan was a portrait of Pine, the en-graver of St. Martin’s Lane, who was only moderately gratified with the compliment, as it procured him the nickname of “Friar Pine.” He endeavored to induce the artist to modify the likeness, but this Hogarth resolutely refused.
“Though not one of Hogarth’s capital works, ‘Calais Gate,’ in its engraved form, at once became popular, on account of its subject. The starved French sentinel was speedily appropriated as a heading for recruiting advertisements, where he figured in humiliating contrast to a well-fed British volunteer. Besides this, Theodosius Forrest son of the Forrest who had been Hogarth’s companion in the ‘five days’ tour’ turned the whole into a cantata, which was headed by a reduced copy of the print. These are the initial lines of this patriotic performance :
“”Twas at the Gates of Calais, Hogarth tells, Where sad Despair and Famine always dwells; A meagre Frenchman, Madame Grandsire’s Cook, As home he steer’d his Carcase, that way took, Bending beneath the weight of famed Sirloin On whom he often wish’d in vain to dine. Good Father Dominick by chance came by, With rosy gills, round paunch, and greedy eye, Who, when he first beheld the greasy load, His benediction on it he bestow’d.’”
Hogarth’s picture of “Calais Gate” now belongs to the British nation, having been presented to the National Gallery by the Duke of Westminster, in 1895. By a curious coincidence, this was the year in which the old gate was at last demolished. In 1891 the picture had been sold in London for £2,572, the record price for a Hogarth up to that time.
William Powell Frith, the Royal Academician who painted ” Hogarth at Calais,” was once “the most widely popular painter of his day ” “his day ” being supposed to mean the sixth and seventh decades of the nineteenth century. In 1854 he won his first great success with “Ramsgate Sands ; ” in 1858 came the “Derby Day in 1862, the
Railway Station ; ” and in 1865 his “Marriage of the Prince of Wales,” painted for the queen, was completed.
Born in 1819, Mr. Frith sent his first picture to the Royal Academy in 1840, and he was also represented there in 1900. The sixty years that lie between these dates have seen many works from his industrious and able hand, and “Hogarth before the Governor of Calais,” exhibited in 1851, is not one of the least meritorious. The painter is a warm admirer of Hogarth, and may indeed be said to be himself a milder Hogarth witness his series of monitory pictures, en-titled “The Road to Ruin,” and “The Race for Wealth.”
Note in Mr. Frith’s ” Hogarth at Calais” the painter’s dog, Trump, at his heels, as, sketch-book in hand, he seeks to justify him-self to the governor. Excellent character, too, is displayed in that dignitary’s old clerk, pen in mouth. The Englishman between the friar and the soldier, and the one who, holding out a paper to the governor, is bidden to stand back, are intended for two friends of Hogarth, who accompanied him on his trip to France.