Sketches by Boz HTML version

14. Vauxhall-Gardens by Day
There was a time when if a man ventured to wonder how Vauxhall- gardens would look
by day, he was hailed with a shout of derision at the absurdity of the idea. Vauxhall by
daylight! A porter-pot without porter, the House of Commons without the Speaker, a
gas- lamp without the gas - pooh, nonsense, the thing was not to be thought of. It was
rumoured, too, in those times, that Vauxhall- gardens by day, were the scene of secret
and hidden experiments; that there, carvers were exercised in the mystic art of cutting a
moderate-sized ham into slices thin enough to pave the whole of the grounds; that
beneath the shade of the tall trees, studious men were constantly engaged in chemical
experiments, with the view of discovering how much water a bowl of negus could
possibly bear; and that in some retired nooks, appropriated to the study of ornithology,
other sage and learned men were, by a process known only to themselves, incessantly
employed in reducing fowls to a mere combination of skin and bone.
Vague rumours of this kind, together with many others of a similar nature, cast over
Vauxhall-gardens an air of deep mystery; and as there is a great deal in the mysterious,
there is no doubt that to a good many people, at all events, the pleasure they afforded
was not a little enhanced by this very circumstance.
Of this class of people we confess to having made one. We loved to wander among
these illuminated groves, thinking of the patient and laborious researches which had
been carried on there during the day, and witnessing their results in the suppers which
were served up beneath the light of lamps and to the sound of music at night. The
temples and saloons and cosmoramas and fountains glittered and sparkled before our
eyes; the beauty of the lady singers and the elegant deportment of the gentlemen,
captivated our hearts; a few hundred thousand of additional lamps dazzled our senses;
a bowl or two of punch bewildered our brains; and we were happy.
In an evil hour, the proprietors of Vauxhall-gardens took to opening them by day. We
regretted this, as rudely and harshly disturbing that veil of mystery which had hung
about the property for many years, and which none but the noonday sun, and the late
Mr. Simpson, had ever penetrated. We shrunk from going; at this moment we scarcely
know why. Perhaps a morbid consciousness of approaching disappointment - perhaps a
fatal presentiment - perhaps the weather; whatever it was, we did NOT go until the
second or third announcement of a race between two balloons tempted us, and we
We paid our shilling at the gate, and then we saw for the first time, that the entrance, if
there had been any magic about it at all, was now decidedly disenchanted, being, in