By Geoffrey Webb
THERE is a remark of George III, reported in the Farington Diary for January, 1800, that might well stand for a heading to this chapter. The king had been examining some drawings of the young Robert Smirke, afterwards the architect of the British Museum. The entry runs as follows: "'but' said he, 'I am a little of an architect and think that the old school (that of Lord Burlington's period, which had more of magnificence) is not enough attended to--the Adams have introduced too much of neatness and prettiness, and even,' added His Majesty, 'Wyatt inclines rather too much that way'." Poor George III, he was lamenting the passing of the fashion before last. The writer of this chapter must, in honesty, admit that he shares to some extent the king's wistful regret. The Burlingtonians, for all their conscious putting of the clock back, as compared with the Continent, had still a good deal of the full-blooded robustious quality, which descended to the early eighteenth century in England from the roaring days of a century and more gone by.
Most of the qualities which the cultivated are now inclined to associate with the eighteenth century, the refinement, the eclectic taste, elegance, "chastity," sentiment, came into English architecture with the accession of George III. The change is so universal, so much that of the whole temper of the age, that it need not be laboured here; the comparison of Vanbrugh Relapse with Sheridan's adaptation of it shows, for instance, the same falling off in gusto, the same emasculation of the very means of expression--in this case the English--that we find if we compare Vanbrugh's architecture with that of Adam. King George's feelings were, no doubt, in some degree due to the influence of Sir William Chambers, who had been appointed to instruct the young Prince in architecture before he came to the throne, and for whom George always retained a lively affection. It is to this influence that we owe Somerset House, Chambers's greatest opportunity, and a building that certainly has more than a reminiscence of that Burlingtonian magnificence he had taught the King to admire.
There is a much quoted passage from Gwilt's memoir of Sir William Chambers, to the effect that "till Mr. Robert Adam entered the lists and distinguished himself by the superiority of his taste in the nicer and more delicate parts of decoration," James Paine and Sir Robert Taylor [Plate 2, A and B] "nearly divided the practice of the profession between them." This was no doubt written from a London point of view, and should be modified by the inclusion of John Carr of York [Plate 2, C], whose large provincial practice lasted well into the middle years of the reign. Carr died in 1807. All these men were late Burlingtonians. That is to say, they had been brought up in, and remained faithful to, the style promoted by Lord Burlington and his friends, aristocratic and professional, as in some sort a reaction against the Baroque tendencies of such men as Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor. The Burlingtonian movement, which dominated English architecture from about 1730 to the 'sixties, though Lord Burlington himself died in 1753, was founded on the exaltation of Andrea Palladio, and with him Inigo Jones, into the position of infallible authorities; by this means it kept at bay any tendencies towards further Baroque development, or to a Rococo school such as flourished on the Continent. In its later phases, indeed, a considerable licence was allowed to Rococo stuccoists, and in interior work generally, though, of course, the great halls, etc., were kept fairly pure Palladian as far as doorways and main features were concerned, the foreign stuccoist being confined usually to the wall spaces and ceilings, where his