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It is hard to imagine a more tempting subject for a biography than William Hogarth (1697-1764), a man whose life was so knotted up in the tangled issues of his time. His personal involvement in the new Foundling Hospital, in questions of copyright and the academy, allow Uglow (Elizabeth Gaskell) to reflect on social, philosophical and even commercial issues of the day. But it is mostly in her detailed and engrossing examination of the contexts and contents of Hogarth's work, particularly of his satires and his seriesA Rake's Progress, A Harlot's Progress, Marriage la Modethat Uglow elucidates Hogarth's life and Georgian society. Having trained as an engraver, Hogarth had roots in an art that was timely and popular. In many ways, Hogarth had more in common with friends like Henry Fielding, David Garrick and Laurence Sterne than with colleagues in the visual arts. In his sharp awareness of human frailty, he is very much a descendant of Swift; he even continues Swift's Battle of the Books, in a different mediumand on the side of the moderns. When many painters were aping anything Italian, particularly heroic history paintings, Hogarth was resolutely contemporary and English. As Uglow points out, "any fool could tell a pious tale, but true `morals' were inseparable from mores, the way people lived in their wild and glorious and dirty detail." It is this detail that Uglow brings to her portrait of the caustic, nave, vain, witty, generous Hogarth, and to his equally complicated times. 200 b&w illustrations, 14 color plates. British, translation, dramatic rights: Faber & Faber. (Nov.) FYI: In November, Yale will publish a new edition of Hogarth's The Analysis of Beauty. ($30 200p ISBN 0-300-07335-6; $15 paper -07346-1); in December, Univ. of California will publish an exhibition catalogue called Hogarth and His Times by David Bindman. 170 b&w illustrations, 6 color plates. ($45 208p ISBN 0-520-21299-1; $29.95 -21300-9)