The Autobiography of Leigh Hunt: With Reminiscences of Friends and Contemporaries - Vol. 1

By Leigh Hunt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III.
SCHOOL-DAYS.

Children's books.--Hogarth.--Christ-Hospital.--Moral and personal courage.--Anecdote of a racket-ball.--Fagging.--Visits of Queen Victoria to the school.--Details respecting that foundation, its manners and customs, modes of training, distinguished scholars, preachers, and schoolmasters, &c.--Tooke's Pantheon and the British Poets.--Scalded legs and the luxuries of a sick ward.

BOOKS for children during the latter part of the eighteenth century had been in a bad way, with sordid and merely plodding morals--ethics that were necessary perhaps for a certain stage in the progress of commerce and for its greatest ultimate purposes (undreamt of by itself), but which thwarted healthy and large views of society for the time being. They were the consequences of an altogether unintellectual state of trade, aided and abetted by such helps to morality as Hogarth's pictures of the Good and Bad Apprentice, which identified virtue with prosperity.

Hogarth, in most of his pictures, was as healthy a moralist as he supposed himself, but not for the reasons which he supposed. The gods he worshiped were Truth and Prudence; but he saw more of the carnal than spiritual beauties of either. He was somewhat of a vulgarian in intention as well as mode. But wherever there is genius, there is a genial something greater than the accident of breeding, than the prevailing disposition, or even than the conscious design; and this portion of divinity within the painter, saw fair-play between his conventional and immortal part. It put the beauty of color into his mirth, the counteraction of mirth into his melancholy, and a lesson beyond his intention into all: that is to say, it suggested redemptions and first causes for the objects of his satire; and thus vindicated the justice of nature, at the moment when he was thinking of little but the pragmaticalness of art.

The children's books in those days were Hogarth's pictures

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