The Champion, August 5, 1742, No.424 [as reprinted in Gentleman's Magazine, XII, August 1742, pp.418-420]
Of the Luxury of the English; and
a Description of Ranelagh Gardens and Vaux-hall, in a Letter
from a Foreigner to his Friend at Paris.
London July 1, O.S. 1742
My dear Friend
In my last, by giving you what I conceiv'd to be a true Portrait of the Manners, Pursuits, and Principles of these famous Islanders, I make no doubt but I sufficiently convinced you, that there is a Root of Wickedness in the human Heart, that no System of Government, nor no Advantages of Education, or even Liberty itself can wholly remove.
Every Thing here is venal; Money is esteem'd an Equivalent for all Things; and this Lust of Lucre is founded on an inordinate Love of Pleasure: The Pleasure of the Senses ? Those of the Mind being esteem'd scarce worth coveting, much less purchasing.
Christianity, indeed, is profess'd here but Epicurism, of the most degenerate Kind, is the almost universal Practice; from the Lackey to the Prince. Money contributed to the Publick is parted with grudgingly; to answer just Debts impatiently; and in Works of Benificence, Generosity, and Charity, as to a Thief, who is gratified rather thro' Terror than Love: But when any Vanity is to be gratify'd, when any Frolic is in View, or when Appetite, or perhaps Vice, is to be indulged, Riches have literally Wings, and fly away.
Here, therefore, as I before hinted, we have the Key to that Avarice, that Rapaciousness, that Mercinariness, so prevalent in this Country; for, as the Subjects of arbitrary Princes, under whom it is dangerous to be thought rich, gather Wealth in order to hoard it, these, on the contrary, heap only to squander; and, for the general, make their boasted Liberty a Cloak for every Kind and Degree of Licentiousness.
Even the Beggar, has hear a Taste of Pleasures, and afflicts himself more that he cannot mingle with the Rich in their Debauches, than that he frequently pines for a Morsel of Bread. All are the Children of Luxury, and all must have their Appetites flatter'd as well as fed.
In spite of all the Refinements which the English have undergone, within the two or three last Centuries, Eating and Drinking are still the Ground-work of whatever they call Pleasure; which is not likely to suffer any Diminution by Fashions imported from Germany.
Those very Outcasts of Fortune, who hunger daily for Bread, have here, therefore, their Places of Resort, where, for a few Pence, their whole Estate, they find wherewith to tickle their Palates, and quaff down both Joy and Forgetfulness, tho' sure to wake in the Arms of Wretchedness.
For the next Stage or Remove of People, every Street has numerous Receptacles, which are licenced by the Government to sell Beer; and where Drunkenness is conniv'd at by the Magistrate, because so good a Friend to the Excise: For the same Reason, likewise, every Village, of which there are Numbers in the Neighbourhood of this huge, overgrown City, is half peopled with Publicans, who have Gardens, Walks cover'd with Trees, which retain an admirable Verdure all the Summer long, and are permitted the further Advantage of certain rustic Games to draw in Customers, and inflame a Reckoning.
I am to observe to you, that, during the fine Season, the Theatres are shut up; but that the Vulgar, who, by the way, I am told, make no inconsiderable Part of the Audience, may not be so long deprived of a Pleasure they relish so much, and understand so little, certain Places, resembling perhaps what Theatres were in their Origin, are then open'd at the Extremities of the Town, where the Spectators are entertain'd with a Medley of Vaulting, Tumbling, Rope-dancing, Singing, and sometimes Farces, and regale themselves, in the Interval, with Eating, Drinking, Smoaking, or making Love to the Ladies of Pleasure, whence you will easily gather, that the old social, sensual, unpolish'd, frolic Turn of the English is here to be seen in its full Perfection.
In all these Rambles and Visits an English Gentleman had the Goodness to be my Guide, from whom I readily accepted an Invitation to spend an Evening at a noble Village in Sight of the Town, and situate by the Side of the River Thames.
I repair'd to the Rendevous, which was the Park adjoining to the Palace Royal, and which answers to our Tuilleries; where we saunter'd with a Handful of fine Company, till it was almost Twilight; a Time, I thought, not a little unseasonable for a Tour into the Country.
We had no sooner quitted the Park, but we found ourselves in a Road full of People, illuminated with Lamps on each Side. The Dust, was the only Inconvenience, but in half an Hour, we found ourselves at a Gate, where Money was demanded and paid for our Admittance; and immediately my Eyes were struck with a large Building of an orbicular Figure, with a Row of Windows round the Attic Story, thro' which it seemed to be liberally illuminated within; and, altogether, presented to the Eye such an Image as a Man, of a whimsical Imagination, would not scruple to call, a Giant's Lanthorn.
Into this enchanted Palace we entered with more Haste than Ceremony; and, at the first Glance, I, for my Part, found myself dumb with Surprize and Astonishment, in the Middle of a vast Amphitheatre, for Structure Roman; for Decorations of Paint and Gildings, gay as the Asiatic; four grand Portals, in the Manner of the antient triumphal Arches, and four Times twelve Boxes, in a double Row, with suitable Pilasters between, form the whole Interior of this wonderful Fabrick, save that, in the Middle, a magnificent Orchestra arises to the Roof, from which depend several large Branches, which contain a great Number of Candles enclosed in Chrystal-Glasses, at once to light and adorn this spacious Rotund.
Groupes of well-dress'd Persons were dispers'd in the Boxes, Numbers cover'd the Area, all Manner of Refreshments were within Call; and Music of all Kinds echoed, tho' not intelligibly, from every one of those elegant Retreats, whither Pleasure seem'd to beckon her wanton Followers.
I have acknowledg'd myself charm'd at my Entrance; you will wonder therefore when I tell you, that Satiety follow'd: In five Minutes I was familiar with the whole and every Part, in the 5 next Indifference took Place, in 5 more my Eyes grew dazzled, my Head grew giddy, and all Night I dreamt of Vanity Fair.
The Evening following this, was one of those which this Climate so seldom enjoys, and which the happiest might envy: It was just hot enough to render what little Air was abroad refreshing, which rather fann'd than rustled the Leaves, rather kiss'd than disturb'd the Stream.
I mention the last, because the Scene was now chang'd to the Water. On the Thames we had a noble Prospect of that renown'd Capital, which those Frenchmen who have never seen it, only affect to despise, and in the midst of several little Pleasure Boats, all fill'd with the Gay, the Fair, the Happy, and the Young, after a very short Voyage, we landed on the opposite Shore.
The Evening had again almost overtaken us: We were to persue the rest of our Way on Foot, and not a single Lamp appear'd to comfort us; I had the Prudence, however, to hold my Peace, and was again introduced to a Place of a very different Kind, from that I had visited the Night before: Vista's, Woods, Tents, Buildings, and Company I had a Glimpse of, but could discover none of them distinctly, for which Reason I began to repine that we had not arriv'd sooner, when, all in a Moment, as if by Magic, every Object was made visible, I should rather say illustrious, by a thousand Lights finely disposed, which were kindled at one and the same Signal; and my Ears and my Eyes, Head and Heart, were captivated at once.
Right before me extended a long and regular Vista; on my Right Hand, I stepp'd into a delightful Grove, wild, as if planted by the Hand of Nature, under the Foliage of which, at equal Distances, I found two similar Tents, of such a Contrivance and Form, as a Painter of Genius and Judgement would chuse to adorn his Landscape with. Farther on, still on my right, thro' a noble Triumphal Arch, with a grand Curtain, still in the picturesque Stile, artificially thrown over it, an excellent Statue of Handel appears, in the Action of playing upon the Lyre, which is finely set off by various Greens, which form, in Miniature, a Sort of woody Theatre.
The Grove itself is bounded on three Sides, except the Intervals made by the two Vistas, which lead to and from it, with a plain, but handsome Colonade; divided into different Appartments, to receive different Companies, and distinguished and adorn'd with Paintings, which tho' slight, are well fancied, and have a very good Effect.
In the middle Centre of the Grove, fronting a handsome Banquetting Room, the very Portico of which is adorn'd and illuminated with curious Lustres of Chrystal Glass, stands the Orchestre, (for Music is likewise here the Soul of the Entertainment) and at some Distance behind it, a Pavillion, wch beggars all Description; I do not mean for the Richness of the Materials, of which it is composed, but for the Nobleness of the Design, and the Elegance of the Decorations with which it is adorn'd: In a word, Architecture, such as Greece would not be ashamed of, and Drapery, far beyond the Imaginations of the East, are here united in a Taste that, I believe, never was equall'd, nor can be exceeded. Both the Centre, and the several Divisions round it, which are all open to the Eye, are hung with Chrystal Lustres: And the whole together, with so many Groupes of happy People, gratified in almost every Sense at once, underneath it, make me fancy that another Armida was the Goddess of the Place, and had exhausted all that Art and Nature had to boast of, in order to rival Paradise itself, and render us frail Creatures thoughtless of an Hereafter.
I must avow, I found my whole Soul, as it were, dissolv'd in Pleasure; not only you, but even Paris itself was forgot. - My whole Discourse, while there, was a Rhapsody of Joy and Wonder. Assure yourself such an Assemblage of Beauties never, but in the Dreams of the Poets, ever met before - and I scarce yet believe the bewitching Scene was real ----
See here the Taste of Britain ! and
reason like a Philosopher and a Politician upon the Consequences ! - I add
no more, but am now awake, and very sincerely,
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