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William Hogarth: Enthusiasm Delimited / Credulity, Superstition and Fanaticism

Enthusiasm Delineated, the only important print of this relatively barren period; probably sparked by Reynolds' three Idler essays (Nos. 76, 79, 82) published in 1759, in which bc praised the Italian Counter-Reformation masters for their sublimity in a way which could not but give offence to Hogarth's staunch Anglican principles.

The print remarried unpublished until 1762, when it was offered as Credulity, Superstition and Fanaticism, the religions attack on Roman Catholicism and Methodism now merged into a general satire of credulity, and made into a companion piece to the 1736 Sleepy Congregation, revised for the occasion.

credulity.jpg (30162 bytes)Enthusiasm Delineated   200

Enthusiasm Delineated, an exercise in Hogarth's early emblematic style, is not as graphically powerful it is just as nihilistic.  On the face of it, it is an attack on the Methodists and their efforts to reach out to the heathen masses.  Showing a Methodist Tabernacle with a demented preacher in full rant.

It seeks to persuade us that their characteristic "enthusiasm" – a derogatory 18th century term meaning an excess of emotion – consisted of nothing more than over-fermented sexual and religious excitement.  The Methodists were bad enough, but the problem was that in one form or another "enthusiasm" was everywhere.   The Jesuit tonsure peeping out from under the preacher's wig was a reminder that the Papists were still in business; the puppets in the preacher's hand were a reminder that false art flourishing.

More generally, Enthusiasm Delineated is suffused with the dismay Hogarth felt at developments in the larger political and intellectual spheres.  He should have warmed to Pitt, but there were too many parallels with Wesley and he was unhinged by the "charismatic hero-leader."  He would have been baffled by Reynold's suggestion that: "One may safely recommend a little more enthusiasm in the modern Painters; too much is certainly not the vice of the present age."

Hogarth's friends persuaded him not to issue this print.  Ostensibly an attack on Methodism, it was so vehement and painted with such a broad brush it could well be read as an attack on Christianity or, God forbid, God.  It did not, however, go to waste.   In 1762 he published a completely re-worked version; it was still an assault on the absurd excesses of Methodism, but the more dangerous theological images were replaced by hot-off-the press references to the scandal of the Cock Lane Ghost in which a young girl had gulled half of London.

Horace Walpole opined that this print, "surpassed all," Hogarth's performances and "would immortalize his unequaled talents."

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Credulity, Superstition and Fanaticism.  Etching. With the 'Design'd and Engrav'd by Wm Hogarth'.  200

[some paper soiling evident on the platemark and on the reverse otherwise excellent with no tears. Sheet: 18 7/8 x 14 7/8ins. Plate overall; 17 1/4 x 14ins (435x350mm).]

Hogarth reworked this composition from an earlier unpublished plate 'Enthusiasm Delineated'.  A satire and social comment on the misuse of religion it pokes fun at the 'facades' that he felt that many people used for presence in church and the superstition and debauchery that lay beneath that surface appearance.  The gauge of 'audience reaction' on the right is a marvellous concept, with readings from 'luke warm' to 'extacy'(sic) and 'lust'.

credulity-2.jpg (31819 bytes)

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