Saturday, 2 July 2011

Squire Mushroom

This rather tickled me. While browsing Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century (John Nichols, Samuel Bentley, 1812, Internet Archive ID literaryanecdote05nichuoft) I ran into the intriguing title Strictures on the absurd Novelties introduced in Gardening, and a humorous Description of Squire Mushroom's Villa.  A satire written in 1753 by the young clergyman Francis Coventry, its text is findable in the 1910 An Eighteenth-Century Correspondence (Internet Archive ID eighteenthcentur00dickuoft); it's a still-pertinent dig at the architectural pretensions of those with more money than taste.

Squire Mushroom grew ambitious of introducing himself to the world as a man of taste and pleasure, for which purpose he ... resolved to have a villa.Full of this pleasing idea he purchased an old farm-house, not far distant from the place of his nativity, and fell to building and planting with all the rage of taste. The old mansion immediately shot up into Gothic spires, and was plastered over with stucco; the walls were notched into battlements ; uncouth animals were set grinning at one another over the gate-posts, and the hall was fortified with rusty swords and pistols, and a Medusa's head staring tremendous over the chimney. When he had proceeded thus far he discovered in good time that his house was not habitable; which obliged him to add two rooms entirely new, and entirely incoherent with the rest of the building. Thus while one-half is designed to present you an old Gothic building, the other half presents to your view Venetian windows, slices of pilaster, balustrades and other parts of Italian Architecture. . . . But the triumph of his genius was seen in the disposition of his gardens, which contain everything in less than two acres of ground. At your first entrance the eye is saluted by a yellow serpentine river, stagnating through a beautiful valley, which extends nearly twenty yards in length. Over the river is thrown a bridge partly in the Chinese manner, and a little ship with sails spread and streamers flying floats in the midst of it. When you have passed this bridge you enter into a grove perplexed with crooked walks ; where you are led into an old hermitage built with roots of trees, which the Squire is pleased to call St. Austin's cave. ... At length when you almost despair of ever visiting daylight any more, you emerge on a sudden in an open and circular area, richly chequered with beds of flowers, and embellished with a little fountain playing in the center of it. ... As every folly must have a name the squire informs you by way of whim he has christened this place Little Maribon ; at the other end of which you are conducted into a pompous, clumsy and gilded building, said to be a temple, and consecrated to Venus, . . . To conclude, if one wished to see a coxcomb expose himself in the most effectual manner, one would advise him to build a villa; which is the chef-d'oeuvre of modern impertinence, and the most conspicuous stage which Folly can possibly mount to display herself to the world.
- An Eighteenth-Century Correspondence, pp263-254, originally in The World, 15, April 12, 1753.

- Ray

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