The Sleeping Congregation. 1736 (Heath Edition 1822). Etching and engraving. Paulson 140 iv/iv; British Museum Satires 2285.
10 1/2 x 8 3/16 (sheet: 12 7/8 x 9 3/4). Inscription: in plate below image, lower left: 'Invented Engraved & Published October 25: 1736 by W-m Hogarth Pursuant to an Act of Parliament / One shilling"; in plate along right edge: "Retouched& Improved April 21, 1762 by the Author". Probably from The Works of William Hogarth from the Original Plates Restored by James Heath, Esq., R.A.; With the Addition of Many Subjects Not Before Collected: To Which is Prefixed, a Biographical Essay on the Genius and Productions of Hogarth, and Explanations on the Subjects of the Plates by John Nichols, Esq., F.S.A. London. Printed for Baldwin, Cradock & Joy, Paternoster Row by Nichols and Son, Parliament Street — 1822 —. A fine impression printed on cream laid paper. Slight foxing; otherwise good condition. Signed and dated in the plate. $175.
Accompanying the etching is a written text, probably from the book: THE SLEEPING CONGREGATION.
This Print was first published in October 1736, price one shilling, under the title of "A Print presenting a Sleepy Congregation in a Country Church. By Mr. Hogarth." It was re-touched and improved by the Author in 1762.
In this Print the Reverend Divine is generally supposed to represent Dr. John Theophilus Desaguliers, an indefatigable Experimental Philosopher, who had the Vicarage of Whitchurch in Middlesex, and the Rectory of Much Munden, Herts. To which of those Churches this Inside View is to be appropriated, not having visited either, I am not able to determine; but, from the two spacious windows, the size of the King's arms, and an escutcheon of the arms of Nicoll (Argent, three Pheons Sable), I should conjecture it to be Whitchurch; the first Duke of Chandos having married a Miss Nicoll.
The Preacher seems to be as much under the influence of Morpheus as any of his somniferous flock. His drawling monotony operates like an opiate upon all who are present. The text, as appears by the book before him, is perfectly applicable to his audience: "Come unto me all ye that are heavily laden, and I will give you rest." His Parishioners, after the labour of six days, find the Church a comfortable dormitory, and the Preacher has the happy talent of lulling to soft repose. The Clerk, a more important character than the Divine, is kept awake by contemplating the charms of a blooming Damsel, who has yielded to the omnipotent power of sleep, while she was studying the service of Matrimony. A significant leer of the Response-maker it evidently directed to the fair Slumberer. In the pew opposite, five swains of the village, overcome by the somnific dose administered to their ears, enjoy uninterrupted rest. The old women seated among them seem indeed to be awake. Perhaps they are actuated by the spirit of contradiction, as the Preacher entreats them to "go to rest;" or the Painter meant to intimate that the women are more attentive than men to their spiritual concerns. In the front of the gallery two persons are joining in chorus with the nasal band below. The Lion is one of the supporters to what is called the King's Arms; the Unicorn, its companion is concealed by the pillar. An hour-glass is placed at the Parson’s left hand; and underneath it we see the following applicable inscription, from St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians: "I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." An hour-glass is still placed in some of the pulpits in the remote provinces. Daniel Burgess, of eccentric memory, never preached without one, and frequently saw it out three times during one sermon. In the original Painting, which was in the collection of Edward Walpole, the face of the Clerk is admirably painted, and with great force; but he appears to be rather dozing than leering at the young woman, as in the Print.
This Plate was first published in October 1736 ; but was re-touched and improved by Hogarth in April 1762.
This engraving dates back to a small oil sketch by the same title, created in 1728 (if we are to believe the date painted into the sketch itself). Subsequently reworked and reissued in 1762, Hogarth's treatment of this subject, the torpor caused by a country parson's sermon, foreshadows Thomas Rowlandson's satirical device of bringing together different types of individuals at a ludicrous social occasion. An old, nearsighted preacher delivers his sermon from his pulpit on high. The hourglass beside him has emptied, illustrating that his sermon has been going on far too long. From the standpoint of all those slumbering before him it is ironic that his subject from the Bible is, "Come unto me all ye that Labour and are Heavy Laden and I will give you Rest." Below the preacher sits the clerk whose attention is fixed on nothing resembling the sacred. The sleeping, attractive girl of his glare has fallen asleep reading the only passage of the Bible that interests her, "Of Matrimony." The majority of the men asleep in the pews are snoring. The only members of the congregation that are awake are two aged women whose conical hats give them the appearance of witches. For a detailed discussion of this print within the religious and popular culture of early-eighteenth-century Britain, see Bern Krysmanski, “Lust in Hogarth’s Sleeping Congregation—Or, How to Waste Time in Post-Puritan England,” Art History 21,3 (1998): 393-408. In his comprehensive discussion of Hogarth’s career, Ronald Paulson comment how the Sleeping Congregation appears to bear a “curious, almost parodic resemblance” to a painting of the assembled House of Commons produced by his father in-law, Sir James Thornhill (Hogarth, vol. 1, 191-92).
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