Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 58.djvu/98

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Vanbrugh
Vanbrugh
90

the Collier crusade. On hearing that he was about to assume the management of a London theatre, the Society for the Reformation of Manners addressed a letter of protest to Archbishop Tenison (dated 10 Dec. 1704) with the usual quotations and a description of ‘Mr. Vanbrook’ as ‘a man who had debauch'd the stage beyond the looseness of all former times.’ But nothing came of the protest, and Vanbrugh continued to allow himself the fullest license (witness the scenes between Flippanta and her mistress in the ‘Confederacy’).

The Queen's Theatre, or Italian Opera-house, of which Vanbrugh was not only builder but also lessee, manager, and author in chief, was opened on 9 April 1705, the corner-stone having been laid by Lady Sunderland on 18 April 1704 (see Fizgerald, New Hist. of Stage, i. 238); a prologue written by Garth, and spoken by Mrs. Bracegirdle, referred to the edifice as ‘By beauty founded and by wit designed.’ The piece performed was Giacomo Greber's ‘Loves of Ergasto,’ a melodrama with Italian music (englished apparently by P. A. Motteux; cf. Burney, Hist. of Music, iv. 200; Hawkins, iv. 810; Clement and Larousse, Dict. des Opéras, p. 661; Wilkinson, Londina Illustrata, vol. ii. sig. R). This is believed to have been the second opera of the kind performed in England (Thomas Clayton's ‘Arsinoe’ being the first). Despite its want of success and the loud gibes of Addison and other wits, Vanbrugh (who had doubtless witnessed the triumphs of Quinault and of Lulli and Scarlatti in Paris) determined to persevere, and he varied the usual repertory of plays with several operas during his two seasons of management. He was probably the most enlightened of early patrons of opera in England, and he was the impresario who first introduced an Italian prima donna of distinction into England in the person of Nicolini. Unfortunately the house had serious acoustic defects. Several of the 100l. shareholders (whig friends of the manager, of whom Congreve was one) disposed of their interest in the concern at the close of the first season, and Vanbrugh himself was glad in 1707 to shift the bulk of the responsibility to the shoulders of Owen MacSwiney or Swinny [q. v.] ‘I lost so much money by the opera this last winter,’ he wrote to the Earl of Manchester on 27 July 1708, ‘that I was glad to get quit of it, and yet I do not doubt that operas will thrive and settle in London.’ He appears to have eventually let the theatre to MacSwiney at a maximum rent of 700l. per annum (cf. Genest, ii. 333; Cibber, Apology, i. 330 n.).

In the same month that the Haymarket Theatre was opened, by an instrument dated 9 June 1705 and signed by Godolphin, Vanbrugh, by the special request of the Duke of Marlborough, was appointed architect and surveyor of the palace it was proposed to erect at Woodstock in commemoration of the victory of Blenheim. Wren, as surveyor-general, was Vanbrugh's official superior at the board of works, but he was now over seventy, while the younger man was in the first flush of his admitted success at Castle Howard. Vanbrugh seems to have felt it incumbent upon him to amaze his patrons, and Blenheim is certainly deficient neither in originality nor in grandiose effect. The work was begun on 19 June 1705, when the architect laid the first stone. The first difficulty arose over the question of the retention of the old manor-house of Woodstock. The architect was anxious to preserve it in subordination to his general scheme on account of its historical and archæological interest. But the duchess suspected some sinister design on the part of the comptroller. The breach was widened when the works were stopped by the cutting off of supplies in October 1710. Some 200,000l. had already been paid out of the civil list, and the duchess deprecated the extravagant scale of the work, still far from completion.

A fresh instalment was obtained from the treasury, and work recommenced in the spring of 1711; but at the close of that year Marlborough was dismissed from all his appointments, and in the summer of 1712 the building was abandoned by the queen's command. The brunt of all the claims for arrears of payment fell upon the unfortunate architect. A letter of protest against the conduct of the treasury (addressed to the mayor of Woodstock on 25 Jan. 1712–13) led to Vanbrugh's dismissal from the comptrollership of the board of works in the following April. With the accession of George I the horizon appeared about to clear. Vanbrugh was knighted at Greenwich House, upon Marlborough's introduction, on 19 Sept. 1714, and it was decided that the Blenheim arrears, amounting to about 50,000l., should be considered as one of the late queen's debts, for the liquidation of which half a million had been allocated. Ultimately in January 1715 the sum of 16,000l., or about a third of what was actually due, was paid to the creditors by the treasury, which also gave it clearly to be understood that no more money would be expended on account of Blenheim. When, in consequence of this proceeding, in Easter term 1718 two contractors brought a suit for 7,314l. due to them for work done