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-Vanbrugh's House

[1] BUILT FROM THE RUINS OF WHITEHALL THAT WAS BURNT

1703


    In times of old, when Time was young,
And poets their own verses sung,
A verse would draw a stone or beam,
That now would overload a team;
Lead 'em a dance of many a mile,
Then rear 'em to a goodly pile.
Each number had its diff'rent power;
Heroic strains could build a tower;
Sonnets and elegies to Chloris,
Might raise a house about two stories;
A lyric ode would slate; a catch
Would tile; an epigram would thatch.
 

Now Poets feel this art is lost, Both to their own and landlord's cost. Not one of all the tuneful throng Can hire a lodging for a song. For Jove consider'd well the case, That poets were a numerous race; And if they all had power to build, The earth would very soon be fill'd: Materials would be quickly spent, And houses would not give a rent. The God of Wealth was therefore made Sole patron of the building trade; Leaving to wits the spacious air, With license to build castles there: In right whereof their old pretence To lodge in garrets comes from thence. There is a worm by Phoebus bred, By leaves of mulberry is fed, Which unprovided where to dwell, Conforms itself to weave a cell; Then curious hands this texture take, And for themselves fine garments make. Meantime a pair of awkward things Grow to his back instead of wings; He flutters when he thinks he flies, Then sheds about his spawn and dies. Just such an insect of the age Is he that scribbles for the stage; His birth he does from Phoebus raise, And feeds upon imagin'd bays; Throws all his wit and hours away In twisting up an ill spun Play: This gives him lodging and provides A stock of tawdry shift besides. With the unravell'd shreds of which The under wits adorn their speech: And now he spreads his little fans, (For all the Muses Geese are Swans) And borne on Fancy's pinions, thinks He soars sublimest when he sinks: But scatt'ring round his fly-blows, dies; Whence broods of insect-poets rise.

Premising thus, in modern way, The greater part I have to say; Sing, Muse, the house of Poet Van, In higher strain than we began.

Van (for 'tis fit the reader know it) Is both a Herald and a Poet; No wonder then if nicely skill'd In each capacity to build. As Herald, he can in a day Repair a house gone to decay; Or by achievements, arms, device, Erect a new one in a trice; And poets, if they had their due, By ancient right are builders too: This made him to Apollo pray For leave to build--the poets way. His prayer was granted, for the God Consented with the usual nod.

After hard throes of many a day Van was delivered of a play, Which in due time brought forth a house, Just as the mountain did the mouse. One story high, one postern door, And one small chamber on a floor, Born like a phoenix from the flame: But neither bulk nor shape the same; As animals of largest size Corrupt to maggots, worms, and flies; A type of modern wit and style, The rubbish of an ancient pile; So chemists boast they have a power, From the dead ashes of a flower Some faint resemblance to produce, But not the virtue, taste, nor juice. So modern rhymers strive to blast The poetry of ages past; Which, having wisely overthrown, They from its ruins build their own.


[Footnote 1: This is the earlier version of the Poem discovered by Forster at Narford, the residence of Mr. Fountaine. See Forster's "Life of Swift," p. 163.--W. E. B.]




Vanbrugh's House

[Note 1: Here follows the later version of the poem, as printed in all editions of Swift's works.--W. E. B.]


    In times of old, when Time was young,
And poets their own verses sung,
A verse would draw a stone or beam,
That now would overload a team;
Lead 'em a dance of many a mile,
Then rear 'em to a goodly pile.
Each number had its diff'rent power;
Heroic strains could build a tower;
Sonnets, or elegies to Chloris,
Might raise a house about two stories;
A lyric ode would slate; a catch
Would tile; an epigram would thatch.

But, to their own or landlord's cost, Now Poets feel this art is lost. Not one of all our tuneful throng Can raise a lodging for a song. For Jove consider'd well the case, Observed they grew a numerous race; And should they build as fast as write, 'Twould ruin undertakers quite. This evil, therefore, to prevent, He wisely changed their element: On earth the God of Wealth was made Sole patron of the building trade; Leaving the Wits the spacious air, With license to build castles there: And 'tis conceived their old pretence To lodge in garrets comes from thence.

Premising thus, in modern way, The better half we have to say; Sing, Muse, the house of Poet Van, In higher strains than we began.

Van (for 'tis fit the reader know it) Is both a Herald[2] and a Poet; No wonder then if nicely skill'd In both capacities to build. As Herald, he can in a day Repair a house gone to decay; Or, by achievements, arms, device, Erect a new one in a trice; And as a poet, he has skill To build in speculation still. "Great Jove!" he cried, "the art restore To build by verse as heretofore, And make my Muse the architect; What palaces shall we erect! No longer shall forsaken Thames Lament his old Whitehall in flames; A pile shall from its ashes rise, Fit to invade or prop the skies."

Jove smiled, and, like a gentle god, Consenting with the usual nod, Told Van, he knew his talent best, And left the choice to his own breast. So Van resolved to write a farce; But, well perceiving wit was scarce, With cunning that defect supplies: Takes a French play as lawful prize;[3] Steals thence his plot and ev'ry joke, Not once suspecting Jove would smoke; And (like a wag set down to write) Would whisper to himself, "a bite." Then, from this motley mingled style, Proceeded to erect his pile. So men of old, to gain renown, did Build Babel with their tongues confounded. Jove saw the cheat, but thought it best To turn the matter to a jest; Down from Olympus' top he slides, Laughing as if he'd burst his sides: Ay, thought the god, are these your tricks, Why then old plays deserve old bricks; And since you're sparing of your stuff, Your building shall be small enough. He spake, and grudging, lent his aid; Th'experienced bricks, that knew their trade, (As being bricks at second hand,) Now move, and now in order stand.

The building, as the Poet writ, Rose in proportion to his wit-- And first the prologue built a wall; So wide as to encompass all. The scene, a wood, produc'd no more Than a few scrubby trees before. The plot as yet lay deep; and so A cellar next was dug below; But this a work so hard was found, Two acts it cost him under ground. Two other acts, we may presume, Were spent in building each a room. Thus far advanc'd, he made a shift To raise a roof with act the fift. The epilogue behind did frame A place, not decent here to name.

Now, Poets from all quarters ran, To see the house of brother Van; Looked high and low, walk'd often round; But no such house was to be found. One asks the watermen hard by, "Where may the Poet's palace lie?" Another of the Thames inquires, If he has seen its gilded spires? At length they in the rubbish spy A thing resembling a goose-pie. Thither in haste the Poets throng, And gaze in silent wonder long, Till one in raptures thus began To praise the pile and builder Van:

"Thrice happy Poet! who may'st trail Thy house about thee like a snail: Or harness'd to a nag, at ease Take journeys in it like a chaise; Or in a boat whene'er thou wilt, Can'st make it serve thee for a tilt! Capacious house! 'tis own'd by all Thou'rt well contrived, tho' thou art small: For ev'ry Wit in Britain's isle May lodge within thy spacious pile. Like Bacchus thou, as Poets feign, Thy mother burnt, art born again, Born like a phoenix from the flame: But neither bulk nor shape the same; As animals of largest size Corrupt to maggots, worms, and flies; A type of modern wit and style, The rubbish of an ancient pile; So chemists boast they have a power, From the dead ashes of a flower Some faint resemblance to produce, But not the virtue, taste, or juice. So modern rhymers wisely blast The poetry of ages past; Which, after they have overthrown, They from its ruins build their own."


[Footnote 2: Sir John Vanbrugh at that time held the office of Clarencieux king of arms.--Scott.]

[Footnote 3: Several of Vanbrugh's plays are taken from Moliere.--Scott. This is a very loose statement. That Vanbrugh was indebted for some of his plays to French sources is true; but the only one taken from Moliere was "The Mistake," adapted from "Le Depit Amoureux"; while his two best plays, "The Relapse" and "The Provoked Wife," were original.--W. E. B.]


Jonathan Swift

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