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Views of London : Gardens II

 Vauxhall Gardens

Illustration from Pierce Egan's Life in London, designed by I.R. and G. Cruickshank


Pierce Egan writes in 1821 (Life in London, or the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esq and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis):

I perceive, said Tom, 'on perusing the newspaper, Vauxhall Gardens are open, and therefore, Jerry, tonight we will pay them a visit.'

'It is an extraordinary place indeed,' replied Hawthorn, 'if my Old Dad and Mam have not exaggerated its grandeur; but, as the old people have not been much used to sights, it may account for their astonishment and rapture in speaking about them.'

'I am not surprised at that,' answered Tom, smiling; 'in my humble opinion it has not its equal in the world. There is nothing like it in Paris. Pleasure holds her court at Vauxhall. In those gay regions, you are liable to jostle against the gods and goddesses - Bacchus you will find frequently at your elbow - Venus and the Graces passing and repassing, yet condescendingly smiling upon you - Momus surrounded by fun and laughter - Terpsichore attending upon your steps - and Apollo winding up the whole with the most pleasing harmony.'

'No Lethe, then is necessary at Vauxhall, I suppose,' said Jerry ironically, interrupting Tom. 

'Yes, my dear coz,' answered the Corinthian. 'It might be inferred that nearly, if not all the visitors, upon entering Vauxhall Gardens, had drank of the waters of Lethe, for everything else seems to be forgotten on joining this enchanting scene: however, I can speak for myself in this respect.'

'Excellent well defined, Tom,' replied Logic.'To me, Vauxhall is the festival of Love and Harmony, and produces a most happy mixture of society. There is no precision about it, and every person can be accommodated, however substantial, or light and airy their palates. If eating, my dear Jerry, is the object in view, you will perceive tables laid out in every box, and the order is only wanted by the waiter instantly to gratify the appetite. If drinking, the punch is so prime, and immediately follows the call, that it will soon make you as lively as a harlequin. If inclined to waltz or to reel, partners can be procured without the formality of a master of the ceremonies. If you are fond of singing, the notes of that ever-green, Mrs Bland, never fail to touch the heart. If attached to music, the able performers in the orchestra, the Pandean minstrels, and regimental bands, in various parts of the gardens, prove quite a treat. If promenading is your forte, you will find illuminated walks of the most interesting and animated description. Numerous persons of the highest quality; myriads of lovely females, with gaiety beaming upon every countenance; and the pleasure of meeting with old friends and acquaintances, render the tout ensemble impressively elegant and fascinating. Even the connoisseur in paintings may find subjects at Vauxhall too rich to be passed over in haste. In short, there is such an endless variety of amusements, in rapid succession, from the song to the dance - from refreshment to the glass - from the cascade to the fireworks, that time positively flies in these Gardens. Reflection is not admitted; and the senses are all upon the alert. You may be as extravagant as you please, or you need not spend a single farthing, if economy is your object, and not be found fault with neither. If you like it so best,' continued the Oxonian, smiling, 'you may be as gay as a dancing-master, and enter into all the fun and frolic by which you are surrounded; or you can be as decorous as a parson in his pulpit, and be nothing more than a common observer. But if enjoyment is your motto, you may make the most of an evening in these Gardens more than at any other place in the Metropolis. It is all free and easy - stay as long as you like, and depart when you think proper.'

Your description is so flattering,' replied Jerry, 'that I do not care how soon the time arrives for us to start.'

Logic proposed a 'bit of a stroll', in order to get rid of an hour or two, which was immediately accepted by Tom and Jerry. A turn or two in Bond Street -  a stroll through Picadilly - a 'look in' at Tatersall's - a ramble through Pall Mall - and a strut on the Corinthian Path, fully occupied the time of our heroes till the hour for dinner arrived, when a few glasses of Tom's rich wines soon put them on the qui vive; Vauxhall was then the object in view, and the Trio started, bent upon enjoying all the pleasures which the place so amply affords to its visitors.

from Ackermann's Microcosm of London, illustration by Augustus Pugin in association with Thomas Rowlandson, c1808.

 

And some time later, Charles Dickens writes:

There was a time when if a man ventured to wonder how Vauxhall-gardens would look by day, he was hailed with a shout of derision at the absurdity of the idea. Vauxhall by daylight! A porter-pot without porter, the House of Commons without the Speaker, a gas-lamp without the gas-pooh, nonsense, the thing was not to be thought of. It was rumoured, too, in those times, that Vauxhall-gardens by day, were the scene of secret and hidden experiments; that there, carvers were exercised in the mystic art of cutting a moderate-sized ham into slices thin enough to pave the whole of the grounds; that beneath the shade of the tall trees, studious men were constantly engaged in chemical experiments, with the view of discovering how much water a bowl of negus could possibly bear; and that in some retired nooks, appropriated to the study of ornithology, other sage and learned men were, by a process known only to themselves, incessantly employed in reducing fowls to a mere combination of skin and bone.

Vague rumours of this kind, together with many others of a similar nature, cast over Vauxhall-gardens an air of deep mystery; and as there is a great deal in the mysterious, there is no doubt that to a good many people, at all events, the pleasure they afforded was not a little enhanced by this very circumstance. Of this class of people we confess to having made one. We loved to wander among these illuminated groves, thinking of the patient and laborious researches which had been carried on there during the day, and witnessing their results in the suppers which were served up beneath the light of lamps and to the sound of music at night. The temples and saloons and cosmoramas and fountains glittered and sparkled before our eyes; the beauty of the lady singers and the elegant deportment of the gentlemen, captivated our hearts; a few hundred thousand of additional lamps dazzled our senses; a bowl or two of punch bewildered our brains; and we were happy.

 

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