We find so much difficulty, at present, to render this season of the year tolerable, in point of pleasure and entertainment, that there is some difficulty in accounting for that chearfulness which we meet with in the writings of our forefathers on the approach of spring, and the evening breezes of June and July: for, so far are the beau monde from prizing the charms which nature has so long disclosed, without any variation, that the simple woods and groves, the meads and purling streams, have lost the power to please: And the additions made to these, to render them more capable of yielding delight, are such, as for many centuries were judged ridiculous in themselves, and irreconcileable with our genius and clime: but thanks to the assistance of some kind visitors from other nations, we have surmounted the difficulties nature and custom have laid in our way, and Italian ridotto's have been seen amongst us, spite of the inclemency of evening damps or British rusticity.
The annual improvements in Vaux-Hall gardens, and the great resort of personages of the first rank, have, for the five last years, drawn a multitude of people together every fine evening during the entertainment of those honoured walks; and the practice of having tickets for the season, to admit two persons every night, does not a little add to the number of the company, by putting it in a Gentleman's power, for so small a charge, to oblige his friends with so generally approved an amusement. The price of admittance, without a ticket, is one shilling for each person; from which last article alone it is computed, that, one night with another, not less than one thousand shillings are received each evening of performance during the season.
Your distance from a kind of entertainment so new amongst us, and so much approved, especially by the Ladies, may make an account of it acceptable to such of your readers as have a taste for polite amusements: —Wherefore, in order to give a more perfect idea of the time spent in this fashionable diversion, the most natural method I can think of, will be to divide the three hours, usually bestowed on a visit to this melodious grove, into separate articles, and under each to give the truest description I can of the manner in which it is employed. - It will not be amiss to apprise you of its lying on the other side of the river from London and Westminster, about a mile from the first mentioned city. —The three hours are those from seven till ten.
The First Hour
ABOUT Westminster and Whitehall stairs, barges with six or four oars each, attend (hired, most of them, at ten shillings for the barge, and a crown each oar for the evening) till the Ladies have done tea: by the help of coaches, chairs, &c. about seven they arrive at the water-side; and with many expressions, and some apprehension of danger, they are, by the aid of the Gentlemen who accompany them, and the watermens assistance, got on board; and Tom, who generally can blow the French horn, is placed exactly with his back against his Lady's shoulders. The putting off the barge from shore occasions several Oh's! and gives opportunity for any kind fair-one to distinguish her favourite by a close cling to his side, and a pinch in the arm. —After repeated cautions to the watermen to take care, the vessel leaves the shore; and the air proves sharp enough to oblige the Ladies to vail their necks by the envious cloud of a handkerchief, tied with such a designed carelessness, as gives even a grace to that impertinent screen of beauty.—Tom plays an air from the last new Opera; and the company regale themselves with a glass of citron or plague-water, or ratafie; and Miss Kitty, by mamma's command, sings the last song her master, Sig. C-----i taught her, with the applause of all present; her papa being engaged elsewhere for the evening. —Several boats with young Gentlemen only, approach within oar-length, and ogle the Ladies; who, with a pleas'd disdain, correct their freedom; and both agreeably part, in hope of a second interview in the gardens.
At Somerset (the place to take water from Covent-Garden) and the Temple stairs, a number of young fellows are hurrying into boats; who, though they set out by themselves, seldom return without female companions.
At all the stairs from the Temple down to the Bridge the watermen are busily employed in taking their company on board; which consists of various degrees. Sir John, from Fenchurch-street, with his Lady and whole family of children, is attended by a footman, with a hand-basket well cramm'd with provisions for the voyage. The boat sallies a little at setting off; but the Knight laughs at the fear of his spouse and the young Ladies his daughters, declaring, the danger that scares them to be nothing, compared with what he came through in his last voyage from Oporto. Misses give an entertaining account of dress and choice of partners at the last city-ball; which, tho' mamma smiles at, Sir John corrects, with doubting whether they give equal attention to the sermons they hear; which his youngest daughter answers prettily enough, by assuring him, for her sisters and self, that they do not take more notice of people in any place whatever than at church. —My Lady grows sick; a glass of wine and drops (no water being in the boat) is instantly given her; and on her recovery, eldest Miss cuts the cake, and distributes it among the company, and a glass of wine is drank round.
At the next stairs, Mr William, an apprentice in Cheapside, by the contrivance of her confident, who accompanies them, is taking water with Miss Suckey, his master's daughter, who is supposed to be gone next door to drink tea, and he to meet an uncle coming out of the country. The thought of having deceived the old people makes them laugh immoderately along the street, and almost totter over the boat instead of getting into it. They are no sooner seated, and got from shore, with hearty wishes that they may meet nobody that knows them, than the Ladies find, one of them through hurry had forgotten her handkerchief, and the other her snuff-box. The subject that employs them the whole passage is the admirable thought and contrivance that brought them out with such secrecy. —The watermen beg leave to stop to drink, which is denied, on account of their not having seen the gardens this year, and being obliged, at all events, to reach home by ten.
An honest old mechanick and his spouse come next. He assures her his Royal Highness himself favours Vaux-Hall with his presence almost every week; and that it is said to be so much improved since he was a young man, that he was resolved to see what new-fangled notions they had got now-a-days, to exceed what were in fashion then. He gives the watermen some drink, asks their names, whether they are married or single, how many children they have alive, &c. which, with the frequent interruption of observations on the companies that overtake them, and descriptions of the barges they pass by, fills up the time of their voyage.
Being all landed, they proceed in cavalcade, through a lane of watermen, to the entrance of the gardens; where, (no dogs being admitted) (1) after Chlo is huff'd by one passage-keeper, Pug beat by another, and Pompey scar'd by a third, they are all trusted to the care of their several watermen; and after shewing tickets, or paying money, the Ladies and Gentlemen walk in, survey the coop made to keep the footmen in, just at the door, take a hasty circuit round the walks, the paintings not being yet let down, take a view of Handel's bust, curiously carved on a fine block of marble, and plac'd on one side of the garden, striking his lyre:- but before they have observed half its beauties, the musick striking up, the whole company crowd from every part of the gardens toward the orchestra and organ; which gives a fair opportunity of meeting one's acquaintance, and remarking what beaus, bells, and beauties are present, a part of the diversion as agreeable as any to,
Sir, your humble servant, S. TOUPEE.