“And there’s your beauxs with
Bedaubed from head to shin;
Their pocket-holes adorned with gold,
But not one sous within.”
Vanbrugh—a man of Dutch extraction as his name suggests—was one of the few whom literature led, though indirectly, to fortune. He became first known as a playwriter, but also having studied architecture conceived the idea of combining his two arts by the construction of a grand theatre on the site of the present Haymarket Opera House. The enterprise was doomed to be one of the many failures from which that ill-starred spot has become remarkable, and Vanbrugh after vainly attempting to support his undertaking by the exertion of all his dramatic power, determined to quit literature altogether, and devoted himself to the more remunerative profession. In this he was successful—he built Blenheim, Castle Howard, and half-a-dozen of the stately halls of England. We may suppose that he acquired wealth, for he built several houses for himself, and in them seems to have exhibited his whimsical fancy. One which he built near Whitehall was called by Swift “a thing like a goose pie,” and he called that which he built for himself, near Greenwich, “the mince pie.”
There is a considerable amount of rough humour in Vanbrugh, and some indelicacy, more like that of Aristophanes than of English writers. We find one gentleman calling another “Old Satan,” and fashionable ladies indulging freely in oaths. A nobleman tells a lady, before her husband, that he is desperately in love with her, “strike me speechless;” to which she replies by giving him a box on the ear, and her husband by drawing his sword. Everything bespeaks a low and primitive state of society; but we must also remember that while something strong was required, it was not then thought objectionable that the scenes of the drama should be very different from those of real life.
The following are from the “Relapse,” the first play that made Vanbrugh known, and which we might therefore expect to be one of his most humorous comedies. Here we have a good caricature of the fops of the day. In the first, Lord Foppington in his fashionable twang, gives us his views, and sketches his mode of life.
I must own I think books the best entertainment in
Lord F. I am so much of your ladyship’s mind, madam, that I have a private gallery where I walk sometimes, which is furnished with nothing but books and looking glasses. Madam, I have gilded ’em so prettily, before G—, it is the most entertaining thing in the world to walk and look upon ’em.
I love a neat library too, but ’tis I think the
inside of a book should recommend it most to us.