Hogarth, Griffiths and their Chiswick Friends

by Val Bott & James Wisdom, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 13, 2004

Research done for the Society’s exhibition,
Hogarth’s Chiswick, in 2002 enabled us to identify some of William Hogarth’s friends and neighbours in Chiswick. However, we soon realised that a number of them were also linked to Ralph Griffiths. The two overlapping circles are described below. We are particularly indebted to Jenny Uglow whose recent books on Hogarth, Dr Johnson and the members of the Lunar Society provided us with many clues and connections.

William Hogarth 1697-1764

William Hogarth 1697-1764

William Hogarth (1697-1764) bought his house in Chiswick in 1749 as a place where he could relax and get away from his combined home, studio and shop in busy Leicester Fields (now Leicester Square). This ‘weekend cottage’ was also a busy place and home to Hogarth’s sister, Anne, and his wife’s mother and sister as well. Cousins and other visitors were often present, and there were also Hogarth’s servants, depicted in a wonderfully affectionate portrait that remained with Hogarth until his death.

Hogarth had numerous friends and acquaintances, linked to his St Martin’s Lane Academy and his masonic lodge, the theatre world and his regular evenings of eating, drinking and singing with the Sublime Society of Beefsteaks. Some of those who lived near him in the summer months in Chiswick – professional men, artists and writers – would also have met in the coffee houses and clubs of London.

Joshua Kirby (1716-1774) was a painter who also acted as Hogarth’s agent, selling his prints in Ipswich. He later taught drawing to the Prince of Wales at Kew and produced Dr Brook Taylor’s Method of Perspective Made Easy, Both in Theory and Practice in 1754. The book was dedicated to Hogarth who provided an amusing frontispiece demonstrating false perspective. Kirby’s daughter, Sarah, married a member of the Trimmer family and became famous for her pioneering work educating the poor children of Brentford.

Joshua Kirby 1716-1774

One of Hogarth’s nearest neighbours and friends was Dr John Ranby (1703-1773), who lived near Chiswick House in Burlington Lane. Hogarth painted beautiful portraits of Ranby’s son and daughter which are now in Tate Britain and the print showing Hogarth’s only known local view was published in 1781 by Hogarth’s widow and has since often been described as Mr Ranby’s House at Chiswick. Ranby became Principal Surgeon to George II, first Master in 1744 of the new Surgeons’ Company (now the Royal College of Surgeons) and, in 1752, Surgeon to Chelsea Hospital, where he had apartments. Ranby attended George II on the battlefield of Dettingen in 1743, the last time an English monarch appeared in person on the battlefield. He shared his expertise in a publication On the Nature and Treatment of Gun-Shot Wounds and Samuel Johnson wrote of a tract by ‘my learned and ingenious friend John Ranby Esq, entitled Doubts on the Abolition of the Slave Trade‘, saying that ‘His doubts are better than most people’s Certainties’. He was a great friend of both Hogarth and Henry Fielding, the author and Justice of the Peace who campaigned against drunkenness. When Fielding died in 1754, Ranby took over his home, Fordhook, in Ealing and left his Chiswick house.

Hogarth loved the theatre, and his first successes were with paintings based on Gay’s Beggar’s Opera. He became a close friend of the greatest actor of the age, David Garrick (1717-1779), who bought a villa up-river in Hampton in 1754. Garrick was brought up in Lichfield where he knew Samuel Johnson with whom he came to London. Garrick was apprenticed to his uncle, a wine merchant, and briefly ran a wine business with his brother in London. But he soon took up acting, bursting into the limelight as Richard III in 1741. Soon he was both acting and managing, specialising in Shakespeare and eventually buying the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Garrick established acting as a respectable profession and on his death in 1779 was buried at Westminster Abbey.

After a long and difficult relationship with Peg Woffington, he married the Austrian dancer, Eva Maria Veigel (known as Mme Violette) – a marriage encouraged by Lady Burlington, whose husband was one of Garrick’s patrons and Hogarth’s neighbour at Chiswick House. Hogarth painted portraits of the Garricks, having already produced a remarkable large canvas of Garrick as Richard III (in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), while Garrick gave two glamorous urns to decorate Hogarth’s Chiswick gateposts and wrote the epitaph for Hogarth’s tomb in Chiswick Churchyard.

Thomas Morell 1704-84

Thomas Morell 1704-84

Probably Hogarth’s closest friend in Chiswick was Dr Thomas Morell (1704-1784), whose portrait Hogarth painted. Morell wrote that from the time Hogarth came to Chiswick he, Morell, was ‘intimate with him to his death and very happy in his acquaintance’. Thomas Morell lived at Turnham Green and had married the daughter of Henry Barker of Grove House in Chiswick. Morell was educated at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge and was an eminent classical scholar. From 1746 he was one of Handel’s librettists, beginning with Judas Maccabeus, and Handel left him £200 in his will. Both Hogarth and Handel were active supporters of Thomas Coram’s new Foundling Hospital.

Morell was one of the first writers for The Gentleman’s Magazine and served as Secretary to the Society of Antiquaries. An idiosyncratic and slightly shabby man, he was described as ‘warm in his attachments and a cheerful and entertaining companion who loved a jest, told a good story and was fond of music’. He helped Hogarth with his book, The Analysis of Beauty, providing a translation of Socrates’ discussion of beauty in Xenophon’s Memorabilia

Another of Hogarth’s friends who helped with the writing of his Analysis of Beauty was James Ralph (c 1700-1762). Born in the USA, Ralph was a political and historical writer and playwright who came to London with Benjamin Franklin in 1725 and became a close confidant of the Prince of Wales. Around the time Hogarth came to Chiswick Ralph was editing a political journal, The Remembrancer. His later plays and opera were not well received and Alexander Pope (who for a time lived in Mawson Lane, Chiswick) wrote of one of his poems, Night:

Silence ye wolves, while Ralph to Cynthia howls,
Making night hideous: answer him, ye owls.

Ralph lived in the residential part of College House on Chiswick Mall until his death from gout. He was close to William Rose who was his executor.

Dr William Rose (1719-86), was born in Aberdeen but lived in Chiswick for 30 years. He ran a school for boys in Kew before he established its successor at Bradmore House in Chiswick Lane in 1758. Rose was a friend of Dr Samuel Johnson (who thought he was too lenient with his pupils!). Lysons described him as ‘a man of amiable manners much esteemed in the literary world’. He was a translator of Greek, Latin and French and helped to establish The Monthly Review, in which he wrote a favourable review of Hogarth’s Analysis of Beauty and reviews of David Hume’s works. It was probably Rose who, with the help of Hume (believed to have been a tutor locally at that time) brought Jean-Jacques Rousseau to visit Chiswick in 1766. Rose’s daughter, Sarah, married the Rev Charles Burney, who kept a school at Hammersmith; his sister Fanny, the novelist, was a member of the Thrales’s Streatham circle.

Arthur Murphy 1727 - 1805

Arthur Murphy 1727-1805

Another, rather younger, member of the Chiswick circle was Arthur Murphy (1727-1805). A resident of Hammersmith Terrace, Murphy had moved to the area to be near his great friend Dr Rose whose epitaph he wrote for his tomb at St Nicholas Church, Chiswick. The son of a Dublin merchant, Murphy was educated in France before becoming a clerk and starting his Gray’s Inn Journal in London. Murphy met Samuel Johnson in 1754 when he was editing his journal and soon became Johnson’s ‘dear Mur’. Through his friendship with Henry Thrale of the brewing family, Murphy arranged Johnson’s first invitation to the Thrales’ home at Streatham. (Another Thrale, William (d 1793), jointly owned the Lamb Brewery at Chiswick with John Sich.) Henry’s wife, Hester, became a great supporter of Johnson. Hogarth knew Hester as a young girl. She was the daughter of his friend John Salusbury, and he used her as a model in The Lady’s Last Stake which he began in 1757 when she was 14.

Murphy fell into debt and turned to acting, which he did with some success, playing Othello in 1755 and working with Garrick, who was to produce his first farce. When he retired from acting Murphy wrote or translated 20 plays, wrote biographies of both Garrick and Johnson and edited Henry Fielding’s Works in 1762. He later tried to join the Middle Temple as a lawyer, where he was at first refused admission because he had been an actor! Despite success at his new profession he was in financial difficulties when he retired from the Bar until George III granted him a pension.

Ralph Griffiths 1720-1803

Ralph Griffiths 1720-1803

One of the most important literary periodicals of the time was The Monthly Review, founded and edited by Dr Ralph Griffiths (1720-1803) who was born in Stone in Staffordshire. Originally a watchmaker, he became a successful bookseller and publisher. He published John Cleland’s Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, a venture which enabled him to set up The Monthly Review in 1749, a journal with which he was involved for 54 years, latterly with the help of his son. Described by a contemporary as ‘the portly Dr. Griffiths’, he lived at Linden House, Turnham Green, not far from his friend William Rose. In 1767 he took as his second wife one of three sisters, another of whom was married to Rose. Griffiths was part of a significant circle which included other Staffordshire men, such as Samuel Johnson and the brothers John and Josiah Wedgwood.

Wedgwood's medallion of Griffiths

Wedgwood’s medallion of Griffiths

Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) was an ambitious and determined potter from North Staffordshire who combined scientific skills with artistic judgement. He promoted the construction of the Trent and Mersey canal to provide safe and cheap transport for china clay from Cornwall into the Potteries and to take finished pots for decoration in Liverpool and for distribution for sale. He was part of a group of thinkers, at the forefront of scientific and industrial development in mid-18th century England, known as the Lunar Society (they met at the full moon, to make travelling safer) which included Matthew Boulton, Joseph Priestley and Erasmus Darwin. The works of these men were reviewed and commented upon in Griffiths’s Monthly Review. Because his brother John knew Ralph Griffiths, Josiah visited him when in London. In the 1760s Josiah wrote to his older brother envying his being party to ‘the meeting and collision of such geniuses’ as those in Griffiths’s circle, and produced a ceramic portrait medallion of Griffiths. About this time he commissioned Thomas Griffiths, Ralph’s brother and a landowner in America, to bring him samples of Cherokee clay from Carolina – a very expensive venture which did not prove viable.

Thomas Bentley was connected to both Josiah Wedgwood and Ralph Griffiths. He was born in Derbyshire in 1730, studied French and Italian while travelling abroad, and became an outspoken opponent of the slave trade. He was already established in Liverpool as an import and export warehouseman and was involved in local politics when he was introduced to Josiah Wedgwood, who was recovering from an accident there. He became Wedgwood’s partner in the production of ornamental wares and moved to London with his sister to supervise the showrooms. In the 1760s he wrote a pamphlet campaigning for a canal system which Griffiths promoted in his Monthly Review. He and Griffiths got on famously; both were Presbyterians and both recently widowed, and he became part of Griffiths’ circle which met at Young Slaughter’s Coffee House in St Martin’s Lane which Hogarth had also frequented. In the 1770s Bentley lived at Turnham Green, where he died in 1780; Josiah Wedgwood is said to have commissioned the fine memorial to him in St Nicholas Church.

Jenny Uglow Hogarth : A Life and a World (Faber 1997), Dr Johnson, His Club and Other Friends (National Portrait Gallery, 1998) and The Lunar Men (Faber 2002). Portraits from the Local Studies Collection in Chiswick Library.

James Wisdom is Chairman of the Brentford & Chiswick Local History Society. Val Bott is a museum consultant and Chairman of the William Hogarth Trust. She co-ordinated the Society’s exhibitions at Hogarth House in 2002 and 2003.

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