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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 7/Vanbrugh's House

VANBRUGH'S HOUSE,


BUILT FROM THE RUINS OF WHITEHALL, 1706.


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 them a dance of many a mile,
Then rear them to a goodly pile.
Each number had its different power:
Heroick strains could build a tower;
Sonnets, or elegies to Chloris,
Might raise a house about two stories;
A lyrick 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 chang'd their element:
On earth the god of wealth was made
Sole patron of the building trade;
Leaving the wits the spacious air,
With licence 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 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 achievement, arms, device,
Erect a new one in a trice;
And as a poet, he has skill
To build in speculation still.
Great Jove! he cry'd, 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 smil'd, 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 resolv'd to write a farce;
But, well perceiving wit was scarce,
With cunning that defect supplies:
Takes a French play as lawful prize;
Steals thence his plot and every 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' experienc'd 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 fifth.
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:
Look'd 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-pye.
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 mayst 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,
Canst make it serve thee for a tilt!
Capacious house! 'tis own'd by all
Thou 'rt well contriv'd, though thou art small:
For every 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 phœnix 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.