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Francis Hayman reading Paradise Lost in the 1740s

Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900Summer, 2004   by Stephen A. Raynie

Francis Hayman had evidently been working on his Paradise Lost designs for at least four years prior to their publication in Thomas Newton's edition of 1749, for in a letter to the artist dated 10 October 1745, David Garrick remarks, "Have You finish'd My Picture Yet? [D.sup.r] Newton has been here & prais'd it extravagantly; Your Drawings for Milton will do you great Service, I have promis'd the Doctor to read [y.sup.e] third Book & give him my opinion for the Drawing, [w.sup.ch] I'll send you." (1) Unfortunately, whatever opinions Garrick and Newton may have exchanged over Hayman's designs have not been found, and in the preface to his edition the editor makes no mention of the artist he praises to the actor. Still, Newton appears to have been satisfied with the artist's approach to Milton because he later engaged Hayman to produce designs for his 1752 edition of the poet's other poems.

Newton's edition was the first to feature a complete set of illustrations composed by a single English artist. (2) More importantly, that Hayman had been working on his Paradise Lost designs long before their publication and that he had solicited the opinion of Garrick suggests the artist carefully considered his interpretation. (3) In addition, Hayman's association with the London stage early in his career as a scene painter recommends a close examination of his work, for the theater by its very nature is an "intermedial" art form, defined by Peter Wagner as a form of intertextuality that integrates the musical, visual, and textual aspects of a work. (4) Indeed, like a stage director, Hayman appears to engage in a compositional manipulation that emerges as a visual form of literary criticism: he shows Adam and Eve gradually moving apart over a series of four designs leading up to the Temptation (books 4, 5, 7, and 8), a move that seems based on a reading of Adam as possessive. (5)

Although Hayman's theatrical associations clearly influence his work, the idea that a painter should be a keen reader of literature such as Paradise Lost was not alien to the early eighteenth century. Theories of how a history painter should be educated inform the practice of book illustration because they reveal a free interplay between the visual and verbal arts and a tradition of artists reading literature. John Dryden, for example, in the preface to his translation of C. A. Du Fresnoy's De Arte Graphica, recommends several books and authors that painters should read for ideas, including the Bible, Homer, Milton, Virgil, Spenser, and Godwin's Roman Antiquities. (6) Jonathan Richardson likewise advises that painters should "read the best books, such as Homer, Milton, Virgil, Spencer [sic], Thucydides, Livy, Plutarch, & c. but chiefly the Holy Scripture." (7) The education of a painter, Richardson avers, should be no different from that of the poet: "To paint a history, a man ought to have the main qualities of a good historian, and something more; he must yet go higher, and have the talents requisite to a good poet; the rules for the conduct of a picture being much the same with those to be observed in writing a poem ... he must be furnished with a vast stock of poetical, as well as historical learning." (8) Importantly, Richardson's insistence on common rules for poetry and painting implies that a history painting is a literary text; he does in fact later characterize painting as "a sort of writing." (9) The reading curricula recommended by Dryden and Richardson for history painters imply that they believe book illustrators should be close readers of texts.

Moreover, the influence of William Hogarth's narrative art on Hayman's book illustrations cannot be discounted. Hogarth and Hayman likely discussed theories of painting between themselves. Deborah Lambert proposes that the two men may have known each other as early as 1733, and a few years later, Hayman and Hogarth, along with Henry Fielding and Hubert Gravelot, were regulars at Old Slaughter's coffee house. (10) Lambert and Brian Allen also note that Hayman was a teacher of painting at the nearby St. Martin's Lane Academy. (11) The two artists certainly continued their relationship well into the 1740s, for of the four paintings contributed to the new Foundling Hospital in 1747, those by Hayman and Hogarth show sequential episodes from the same chapter of Exodus: Hayman's painting is Finding of Moses in the Bulrushes and Hogarth's is Moses Brought before Pharaoh's Daughter. George Vertue, moreover, recounts that Hayman and Hogarth were briefly arrested together in France during an artistic foray to sketch Calais following the Peace of Aix-la-Chappelle in 1748. (12)

Hayman's visual criticism of Milton is manifested throughout Paradise Lost, but most strikingly in his depiction of the relationship between Adam and Eve. For example, in his design for book 4 (fig. 1), Hayman captures the spirit of the earlier pastoral description of Eden, and depicts the extraordinarily ironic moment just after the couple take their repose:

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