Observing that Sir Clement seemed disposed to renew his enquiries, I turned towards one of the paintings, and, pretending to be very much occupied in looking at it, asked M. Du Bois some questions concerning the figures.
“O! Mon Dieu! ” cried Madame Duval, “don’t ask him; your best way is to ask Mr. Smith, for he’s been here the oftenest. Come, Mr. Smith, I dare say you can tell us all about them.”
“Why, yes, Ma’am, yes,” said Mr. Smith: who, brightening up at this application, advanced towards us with an air of assumed importance, which, however, sat very uneasily upon him, and begged to know what he should explain first: “For I have attended,” said he, “to all these paintings, and know every thing in them perfectly well; for I am rather fond of pictures, Ma’am; and, really, I must say, I think, a pretty pictures is a – a very – is really a very – is something very pretty – ”
“So do I too,” said Madame Duval; “but pray now, Sir, tell us who that is meant for,” pointing to a figure of Neptune.
“That! – why, that, Ma’am, is, – Lord bless me, I can’t think how I come to be so stupid, but really I have forgot his name; – and yet, I know it as well as my own too: – however, he’s a General, Ma’am, they are all Generals.”
I saw Sir Clement bite his lips; and, indeed, so did I mine.
“Well,” said Madame Duval, “it’s the oddest dress for a general ever I see!”
“He seems so capital a figure,” said Sir Clement, to Mr. Smith, “that I imagine he must be Generalissimo of the whole army.”
“Yes, Sir, yes,” answered Mr. Smith, respectfully bowing, and highly delighted at being thus referred to, “you are perfectly right; – but I cannot for my life think of his name; – perhaps, Sir, you may remember it?”
“No, really,” replied Sir Clement, “my acquaintance among the generals is not so extensive.”
The ironical tone of voice in which Sir Clement spoke entirely disconcerted Mr. Smith; who again retiring to an humble distance, seemed sensibly mortified at the failure of his attempt to recover his consequence.
Frances Burney, 1752-1840. Evalina, 1778
Letter XLVI. Evalina to the Rev. Mr. Villars. Holborn, June 17th. (Vol II. Letter XV. Evalina in continuation. June 17th)
Note: The Picture Room at Vauxhall Gardens, which opened in 1661, was attached to the Rotunda. Also known as the ‘saloon’, it was 70 feet long by 34 feet wide. The paintings on the walls of the Picture Room were commissioned in 1760 from Francis Hayman, 1708-1776. They depicted famous British victories and the military heroes associated with them. The painting of The Triumph of Britannia, now lost, celebrated Sir Edward Hawke’s defeat of the French fleet in 1759 included the central figure of Neptune appearing to favour the British cause. Hayman also made paintings for the fifty supper-boxes at Vauxhall. The images were contemporary and jingoistic as seen in the work by marine painter, Peter Monamy, 1681-1749, who depicted episodes from the current conflict with Spain, the so-called “War of Jenkins’ Ear.” Including The Taking of Porto Bello, and the Capture of the San Joseph. Hayman created a series of fifty-three paintings, fourteen of which have survived, painted by the staff and students, at the Saint Martin’s Lane Academy. Eighteen of the paintings were published as popular engravings, illustrating subjects from contemporary theatre, children’s games, and adult pursuits.
Image: Edward Francis Burney, 1760-1848. Portrait of Frances Burney. c.1784-85. © National Portrait Gallery, London
Image: Francis Hayman (after). The Triumph of Britannia. Print by Simon François Ravenet. Published in London,1765. © The Trustees of the British Museum, Prints & Drawings Department