Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sympathy for Hogarth's "Enraged Musician", 1741

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Isabella reporting,

I've always had great sympathy with the frustrated musician in this 1741 engraving by William Hogarth – probably more that Hogarth himself have. Many historians see this as the triumph of virtuous English noise over the effete foreigner who can't take the racket. (Click the image to enlarge.)

But honestly, who can blame him? This print captures how incredibly noisy an 18th c. street must have been. There are street vendors like the milk maid and the fish seller, crying their wares. A ballad singer sings while her baby cries, and a piper pipes. Dogs bark, birds caw, cats fight, children play drums and rattles (and piss on the fence.) A knife-grinder sharpens a cleaver, a pavior pounds a new paving stone in place, a dustman rings his bell, and a sow gelder blows his horn. The flag on the church spire signifies a holiday, meaning that even the church bell is likely tolling, too.

When the author Henry Fielding saw this engraving, he reportedly exclaimed it was "enough to make a man deaf to look at." He's right. It is.

Now substitute me pulling my hair for the musician. I live on a very quiet street, a dead end surrounded by woods, so that beyond the birds, dogs, and the occasional leaf-blower, my muse is peacefully undisturbed. But this week as I raced to meet my deadline, the local water company decided to replace all the water-pipes in my neighborhood. They're not on my street yet, but each morning by 7:00 a.m., I can hear them inching closer: jack hammers, front-end loaders, cranes lifting pipes and dump trucks dumping gravel, radios blasting call-in talk shows, and, of course, shouting men. It's only a matter of time, with the pavement outside my house marked with spray-painted crosses like a doomed plague victim, and I'm racing towards "The End" before the trucks appear.

Monsieur Enraged Musician, I feel your pain.

Above: The Enraged Musician, by William Hogarth, 1741, etching and engraving on paper. Tate Britain, London.


carolyntbj said...

My Very Favorite roadwork/noise scene in a book is in Diana Wynne Jones' "Archer's Goon", in which the characters are being punished (the mom is a musician) There are road crews who tear up their street to just start over again when they finish, plus every kind of marching band available from Highschool, to Pipe and Drum - at times simultaneously!!

nightsmusic said...

I feel your pain, been there many times. The worst though was when I was working 7p - 7:30a and then had to try and sleep through all of that.

Just keep writing ;)

Philip Wilkinson said...

My own street is normally noisier than yours, but it is now noisier still. I have been working to my current deadline to the accompaniment of men renewing our gas pipes (that's British gas, of course, not American gasoline!). A similar cacophony to the one produced by your water pipe men, and the plague crosses too. Noise-cancelling headphones, concentration, and determination all help - good luck with the writing!

Anonymous said...

I have that print in my apartment over my stereo.

Brodie said...

Not only was 18th-century London noisy, it was filthy and smelly too. Emily Cockayne’s actually written a whole book called ‘Hubbub’ that focuses the assault on the senses that would have been involved in visiting a big city at that time.

Moreover, the problem of cacophonous noise wasn’t just problem in big cities in the 18th century. The historian Jonathan Willis has written a couple of posts on the ‘profane pipers’ and rowdy fiddlers who disrupted church services during the English Reformation in the 16th century.

The posts are here:
And here:


Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thank you, all, for the good wishes (doubtless delivered in a library-level whisper)

Brodie, I LOVE Emily Cockayne's book. Too often it's easy to romanticize the past into a kind of Disneyland-version. HUBBUB emphatically puts all of those notions to rest. Highly recommended! Plus this Hogarth print is on the dust jacket. *g*

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