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The theatre in the Great Hall was never used again after this, except once in the year 1731, when George II. entertained here the Duke of Lorraine. The stage, nevertheless, continued to block up the Hall till the year 1798, when James Wyatt, then Surveyor-General of the Board of Works, obtained George III.'s permission to remove it, which was accordingly done, and the Hall restored to its original form and beauty, as we now see it.
The mention of the Surveyor-General of the Board of Works reminds us it was in the year which we have now reached, 1718, that Sir Christopher Wren, the most illustrious of all the holders of that office, was, after nearly fifty years spent in the active and assiduous service of the Crown and the public, and in the fourscore and sixth year of his age, driven from the post that he had filled so long, with such conspicuous and splendid success.
This shameful and ungenerous act, though perhaps not emanating directly from the King, who seems to have been instigated to it by some of his favourites, has deservedly been ever regarded as one of the worst blots on a reign sufficiently blurred and bespattered, without this additional and gratuitous stain. The fact was, however, that the great English architect was altogether of too noble a nature to stoop and cringe to the corrupt and hungry crew of parasites, who dispensed the patronage of the first George ; and it was inevitable that he should be pushed aside for one whose character was more compliant, and whose gross ignorance and incompetence were more in consonance with the influences paramount at Court. Such a one was William Benson, in whose favour, probably by a judicious distribution of largess, the patent which Wren had received from Charles II., and which he had held under five successive sovereigns, was withdrawn, on the 26th of April, 1718.
Wren bore the slight thus put upon him with exemplary fortitude and dignity. He retired to Hampton Court, saying only with the Stoic: “Nunc me jubet fortuna expeditius philosophari.”
His residence, however, was not in the palace, but in a house on the Green, which he had taken on lease from the Crown in 1708, at a rent of £10 a year for fifty years, and which he considerably improved.
DISMISSAL OF SIR CHRISTOPHER WREN.
Sir Christopher's old house and garden are but little changed to this day : the terrace that he constructed by the riverside, where he built an arbour, his old tool-house, the tree on the lawn, beneath the shade of which he loved to sit, his drawing room, his dining room, his bedroom, all remain, much in their original state, consecrated for all time by their association with England's greatest architect.
Here, within sight of the palace that he had reconstructed and embellished, he passed the greater part of the last five years of his life, “free from worldly cares, in contemplation and studies," says his grandson and biographer, "and principally in the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, cheerful in solitude, and as well pleased to die in the shade as in the light.”
The pretext for his supersession, after such signal services rendered to the State, with so splendid a record of great achievements, and with a mind that retained, in spite of his years, all the vigour and freshness of youth, was founded on the old and specious pretence that economies would thereby be effected in the public service. This well-worn device was paraded by the man who looked to stepping into his shoes, and who, when duly installed, proceeded to level a series of accusations of extravagance and carelessness against the late Board, supplementing them with specific charges of the grossest jobbery, against some of the subordinate officials in the department. These accusations, however, Benson was far too astute to prefer himself; but induced his brother Benjamin, whom he had pitchforked into the post of Clerk of the Works at Whitehall, and one Colin Campbell, a servile agent of his own, to formulate them in a memorial to the Treasury.
This memorial the Lords of the Treasury, regardless of Wren's retirement from the King's service, the circumstances attending it, his advanced age, and his many other claims on their forbearance, forwarded to him to report upon. The dignified, and indeed pathetic letter which the old man wrote from Hampton Court, and in which he protested against this procedure would, if any vindication of Sir Christopher Wren were needed, entirely have exonerated him from any responsibilities for the abuses denounced in the Benson memorial, even had they proved to be true. As it happened, however, they appear to have turned out, on investigation, to be entirely devoid of foundation; and so great was the discredit which overtook Benson on this account, and for his gross incapacity, jobbery, and misconduct, that he was soon after ignominiously expelled from his appointment, and only escaped prosecution by the renewed influence of the foreign favourites exerted in his favour-an influence, which afterwards positively secured him another post, in a different sphere, with a salary of £1,200.
Benson's dismissal from the Office of Works took place scarcely more than a twelvemonth after his appointment. Wren, therefore, had not long to wait for his vindication. But in his Hampton Court retreat, with his clear and vigorous mind engrossed to the last day of his life in scientific researches, he let the world go by, and cared for none of these things. Once a year only did he leave home to be borne to London, to sit for awhile under the dome of his own great cathedral; and it was on the last of these visits that he caught the cold which hastened his end. It was his custom latterly to sleep in his dining room after dinner, and on the 25th of February, 1723, his servant, who constantly attended him, thinking he slept longer than usual, and going in to rouse him, found him dead in his chair. The old-fashioned panelled room, in which he died, is on the ground floor of Mr. Fletcher's house, on the left-hand side as you come in from the Green.
From Hampton Court his remains were removed to London to repose beneath the shelter of St. Paul's.
In the meanwhile the Board of Works was not the only department of State in which disorders and irregularities were declared at this time to prevail at Hampton Court. The conduct of his Majesty's household was equally impugned : for, in a letter, addressed by King George, on the 5th of May, in the year after Wren's dismissal, 1719, to the Lord Chamberlain, the Duke of Newcastle, animadversions are made on an abuse, which seems always to have been more or less existent at Hampton Court, and which it taxed even the strong arm of Henry VIII. to grapple withnamely, the practice of persons, who had no sort of right to occupy rooms in the palace at all, calmly settling themselves down there, probably with the connivance of some friendly DULNESS OF GEORGE II.'S COURT.
or corrupt official, and in this manner endeavouring surreptitiously to acquire a sort of prescriptive footing, which it was afterwards difficult to dispute, and from which it was still more difficult to dislodge them.
The ordinances, however, of a George I. were not likely to have much effect in a case where a Henry VIII. had failed to secure obedience—and, as we shall have occasion to note later, the abuse continued to flourish till nearly the beginning of the present century.
COURT LIFE UNDER GEORGE II.
GEORGE II., after his accession, still preserved his old affection for Hampton Court; and the Court came here for several months, on July 2nd, 1728, and, for the next ten years or so, a regular practice was made of spending a couple of months every summer in this palace. Nevertheless, times were now sadly changed from what they had been, and life at Court, which had lost so many of its brightest ornaments, was oppressed with an intolerable, if decorous dulness, which George II., who was never of a really vivacious temperament, seems to have thought more befitting his new dignity. Mrs. Howard, in answering Lady Hervey's letter, cited in a previous chapter, dwelling on the memories of old Hampton Court days, says:
“Hampton Court is very different from the place you knew; and to say one wished Tom Lepell, Schatz, and Bellenden at the tea-table is too interested to be doubted. Frizelation, flirtation, and dangleation are now no more, and nothing less than a Lepell can restore them to lise; but to tell you my opinion freely, the people you now converse with (that is, her books) are much more alive than any of your old acquaintance.”
The rooms at Hampton Court occupied by King George and Queen Caroline at this time remain very much as they did a hundred and fifty years ago; particularly her Majesty's
Dressing Room, in which is the tall marble bath where her Majesty performed her ablutions, and on the same side is the door into her private chapel. Here prayers were read while the Queen dressed, the door being left ajar so that the chaplain's voice might be heard. The bedchamber woman-in-waiting was one day ordered to bid the chaplain, Dr. Maddox (afterwards Bishop of Worcester), begin the service; but seeing a picture of a naked Venus over the fireplace, he made bold to remark, “And a very proper altar-piece is here, madam !”
The fact was, the Queen had no very great regard for the ministrations of the clergy; and though she was fond of studying theology, and of having discussions with the learned divines of the period, her views on religion were very far from orthodox. Her levées, which were probably held in the Queen's State Bedroom already mentioned, were "a strange picture of the motley character and manners of a queen and a learned woman. She received company while she was at her toilet; prayers, and sometimes a sermon, were read; learned men and divines were intermixed with courtiers and ladies of the household; the conversation turned on metaphysical subjects, blended with repartees, sallies of mirth, and the tittle-tattle of a drawing room.
But, except for these diversions of the Queen's, life at Hampton Court always moved at this time in the same uninteresting and tedious groove, an admirable sketch of which is given in a letter of Lord Hervey's, written in 1733 :
“Hampton Court, July 31st, 1733. “I will not trouble you with any account of our occupations at Hampton Court. No mill-horse ever went in a more constant track, or a more unchanging circle, so that by the assistance of an almanack for the day of the week, and a watch for the hour of the day, you may inform yourself fully, without any other intelligence but your memory, of every transaction within the verge of the Court. Walking, chaises, levees and audiences fill the morning ; at night the King plays at commerce and backgammon, and the Queen at quadrille, where poor Lady Charlotte [de Roucy] runs her usual nightly gauntlet—the Queen pulling her hood, Mr. Schutz sputtering in her face, and the Princess Royal rapping her knuckles, all at a time. It was in vain she fled from persecution for her religion : she suffers for her pride what she escaped for her faith ; undergoes in a drawing room what she dreaded from the Inquisition, and will die a martyr to a Court, though not to a church.
The Duke of Graston takes his nightly opiate of lottery, and sleeps as